For coffee owners in Brazil, 2021 has been a year like no other

The coronavirus pandemic has been wreaking havoc in Brazil for over a year now, hitting the country particularly hard in 2021. Despite Brazil’s somewhat onerous vaccination schedule, there have been vaccine shortages due to the lack of response from the federal government when contacted several times by world pharmaceutical companies last year.

During the pandemic, some state governments imposed color-coded restriction phases (purple being the strictest and yellow the most relaxed). During the purple phase, cafes are hit hard because even pickups are not allowed, only deliveries. Just as customers are used to buying coffee beans in their neighborhood cafes, so can they buy. For small businesses, it has been extremely difficult to meet the restrictions. Homeowners must constantly monitor the news and anticipate pandemic trends – if they see a vacation approaching, they already know that a tighter restriction could follow, for example. I spoke with cafe owners in São Paulo, Brasilia, Vitória, and Belo Horizonte to assess their thoughts on running their businesses in the second year of the pandemic.

Tiago Damasceno, of OOP Café in Belo Horizonte, believes they are reaping the benefits of a learning curve from 2020. One of them is that instability is a constant – there is no way to make a reliable prediction, the scenarios change constantly and very intensely. “We thought that last year the death toll was scary. We never knew what we had to come. Although he is starting to see some behavioral trends, he finds it difficult to develop long term business strategies because everything needs to be overhauled in the short term.

Damasceno explains that OOP had to become more than a cafe, and it is now also a kind of small market. They changed the menu to fit the new space and entered iFood, an online delivery platform. They were able to get a loan from the government and redevelop their space, occupying the sidewalk with recycled wood tables from part of their counter. They moved their roast – which was in another space – to the back of the cafe, streamlining their operating costs. He explains that they had to sit down, listen and understand who their online customers were and what they wanted. “When there are periods of lockdown, some of our sales will migrate to iFood, but of course it’s not the same. Today our income is around 60 to 70% of what it was before the pandemic (when we are open) and around 40% when there is a lockdown, if we are lucky, ”he adds. -he.

Damasceno recognizes that selling online is part of its business today. It’s something they’ve always tried to run away from, but now he sees it as crucial to their survival. “Our product remains the same, we keep believing in the same things, but the path to delivering it to people has to be a different one right now. For those of us who stay in the market, we need to be courageous, and we need to stay strong and respond quickly to whatever comes our way. “

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In Brasilia, Lucas Hamu, the owner of Objeto Encontrado, sees 2021 as a better year for the company itself because at Objeto they are more focused. “In 2020, we were trying everything at the same time, shooting in the dark. Now our customers are used to our delivery system, we have our regulars for both delivery and take-out, and we are learning to predict our income in all situations: delivery only, delivery plus take-out, and totally. open, ”he explains.

A good relationship emerging from the pandemic is that Hamu has drawn closer to the MST (Landless Agricultural Workers Movement), so now Objeto offers his meals based on the seasonal ingredients he supplies and sells his products at the cafe. Hamu adds that meals were essential to keep your head above water. Hamu also used a federal government program that helped companies pay their employees’ full-time wages while employers cut working hours by up to 70%.

Hamu recognizes that their situation is not at all bad in the general context, as they are privileged to have access to bank loans and to have family members who could support them with loans if necessary. He explains that many of their clients are federal government employees with stable incomes, so he feels rather uncomfortable complaining too much about his business situation. “There are other companies in a much more precarious situation, with a lot less communication skills and therefore less awareness capacity. We have clients who have offered donations, without asking for anything in return, to get us out of our financial troubles last year. Not all companies have what we have, and I feel very lucky. I see the overall scenario as worsening particularly in the country, but Objeto is relatively protected, fortunately.

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Rodolfo Herrera, from Takko Café in São Paulo, explains that in March 2021 they felt the same feeling of being lost as in March 2020, except this time they had no savings and customers are suspicious and reluctant to spend because of the current situation. health / economic crisis in which we live. He adds that Takko had great difficulty obtaining a loan from the federal government. They had just moved into the new space when the pandemic hit. “It always feels like we were never able to open our new space.” Herrera explains that they chose not to work with any of the available delivery apps, so customers order through Instagram DM and then have a bike courier in their neighborhood make deliveries for them. “It’s a very manual delivery system that takes a lot of our time,” he adds. “At our best time during the pandemic, we reached 80% of what was our revenue before the pandemic. Right now we are at 40-50% of our turnover. A lot of independent stores are closing and we are seeing franchise cafes coming into our neighborhood, which is strange. I don’t yet know what the impact will be, ”he adds.

Return to Belo Horizonte. The pandemic forced Rafael Quick to go online and therefore outside of Belo Horizonte, and suddenly, many clients from São Paulo showed up. They have also run their own twice-weekly delivery system within Belo Horizonte, which Quick plans to keep even after the pandemic. Jetiboca has launched a line of specialty coffees which has gained a lot of attention due to the pandemic – the packaging is different too, coming inside an aluminum can – gaining market share among connoisseurs of specialty coffee. “Before the pandemic, we sold 80% of our ground coffee and only 20% as beans. Now we are selling 20% ​​of the land.

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Quick explains that Jetiboca’s coffee has been less affected than other companies because its operating costs are low. “It is difficult to keep up with these government open / close mandates because we can say that it clearly changes consumer behavior. Also, the way we built our business was based on providing an experience. Our history was deeply linked to Minas Gerais. Once we realized we had lost that physical contact, we tried to transfer some of it to our packaging. It’s very different from what we had in mind before. We had brand experience before we had to change because of the pandemic, so in that sense we are looking forward to reopening our store, ”he adds.

Vagner Benezath, from Vitória (capital of the Espírito Santo estate) and owner of Café Kaffa, feels pessimistic about this year. Kaffa has started delivering its selection of coffee and food products through delivery apps and will likely continue to do so after the pandemic. Benezath is not a big fan of delivery apps, but has found himself using them to reach more consumers in Vitória. He tells me he feels frustrated because he had to give in and start delivering or else they couldn’t continue. “Government restrictions change weekly here, but we adhere to the strictest and keep it that way throughout the month, to keep our staff safe. I also feel that the “buy local” was a mistake. People quickly started buying from the cheapest sources, at least here in Vitória.

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Paulo Filho of KOF, São Paulo, says that whenever he sees a lot of people in the streets, he and his partner Camila Romano start to worry, as they are certain of a new wave, and of new containments as a result. KOF no longer allows counter orders or access to terraces or the back of the store, and only one employee can speak to customers. Today, they only offer espresso-based drinks and batch coffee, to be more efficient. Customers have to pay up front, which Filho says inhibits consumption, but they have chosen to do so to limit contact between customers and staff. KOF chose to have their own e-commerce on their website because they don’t believe in the business model of delivery apps. They also had to modify their menu according to the yellow, purple and red phases. “Some products don’t travel well until delivery,” he says.

Filho recalls that at the start of the pandemic they were selling vouchers for later use and he says customers who no longer even lived in Brazil were buying them to help. “In addition, many customers have waited several months before using the vouchers so that we can collect them ourselves before using them. It’s a little scary to think that we were able to survive – and we can still go through it – because we had a very strong customer base and also some savings. If this had happened in less than three years of activity, I don’t think we would be here yet, ”recalls Filho. “We’ve always been very careful with our spending, saving up for a rainy day and I think only a few cafes do. This allowed us to feel more secure not to resort to measures that would go against what we believe. “

Juliana Ganan is a Brazilian coffee professional and journalist. Read more Juliana Ganan on Sprudge.

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