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SCAA 2010 Expo
26 Apr 2010


Pouring As much as it rules my life sometimes, Kona coffee is really quite insignificant.  A small business such as Kona Earth is barely a blip on the overall coffee industry radar.  Even Starbucks is only a small part of a very large coffee industry.  Coffee is grown and consumed worldwide so it's not surprising that there are plenty of conventions, expos, festivals, cuppings, contest, fairs and other events focused solely on coffee.  I recently spent several days at one of the largest coffee events, the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) 2010 Expo.  This year it was in Anaheim, California, right next to Disneyland.  No, I didn't get a chance to go to Disneyland.  I've been to Disneyland plenty of times and this trip I had other things to do.

This is not the first expo I've been to nor is it the first SCAA I've attended as an exhibitor.  I am on the board of directors for the Kona Coffee Council (KCC) and every year the KCC has a booth at SCAA.  This year it was my turn to run the booth.  There were several of us that took shifts but I had overall responsibility for making sure everything went smoothly.

I had to show up a day early to get thing set up before the show.  Because of inconvenient airline schedules I actually had to leave a day earlier just for travel.  Add on another day for traveling home and a three day show turned into six days away from the farm.  Even with a cellphone and laptop, six days away means I have to be all caught up on work before I leave and there is a backlog of work waiting for me when I get back.

Being an exhibitor meant spending hours and hours standing on my feet, shaking hands, talking business and explaining what Kona coffee is and where people can get it.  We handed out a "Farmer Direct List" to anybody that was interested in purchasing coffee directly from a Kona coffee farm.  We also served samples of freshly brewed 100% Kona coffee.  Even the high powered coffee professionals, who taste coffees from all over the world, were often full of compliments after a sample of fresh 100% Kona coffee.

Shiny Compared to rural life on the coffee farm, a large trade show like SCAA can feel glamorous.  There are exhibitors and attendees from all over the world:  Brazil, Columbia, Vietnam, Sumatra, Kenya, Uganda... and even Kona, Hawaii.  Our little Kona coffee booth, as nice as it was, paled in comparison to some of the lavish displays at the show.  Large companies will spend tens of thousands of dollars for a single show.  There are gorgeous women, slick salesman, high powered buyers and wealthy business owners everywhere.  Fancy clothes, expensive hotels and decadent parties are all part of the scene.

It all seems glamorous but even the fancy parties have a strong overtone of business.  Generating and keeping business contacts is the name of the game.  No matter how many drinks you've had, it's still important to shake hands and remember names.  I actually surprised myself with how many people I know in the industry.  There was barely a moment when I wasn't talking to someone.  Even on the flight there and back, I knew several people on the plane.  Some of whom are very important people in the world of coffee.

Despite the constant hand shaking and business dealings, I doubt Kona Earth will get any significant sales from the event.  So why spend all that time if I'm not getting any money out of it?  Don't ask me that right after the show when I'm tired and on my way home.  It's a question better answered after a few day's rest.  I have to remind myself that there's a bigger picture.  I'm not trying to find sales for my own business, I'm trying to help the Kona coffee industry overall.  Add up all the Kona coffee farms together and there's still nowhere near enough Kona coffee for the huge potential worldwide demand so there's no need to compete.  The way I see it, promoting Kona coffee helps all the farmers in the area.  Get the world out and eventually some of those sales will find their way back to me.  Competing against other Kona coffee farms is counterproductive.  I'd much rather stay unbiased and promote Kona coffee in general.

I do get some side benefits from participating in events like SCAA.  I get to hear firsthand what potential buyers are looking for.  I see how other companies manage to sell their coffee.  I also go shopping, visiting booths with products or services that may help my business.  I visited a lot of booths but I didn't buy anything.  As much as I'd like a fancy new automatic coffee packaging machine, the cheapest one is about $15,000.  It's still interesting to look though and maybe someday I'll be able to afford such shiny new equipment.

After a week of fancy clothes, expensive business meals and carefully worded conversations, I was ready to get back to the farm with my grubby t-shirts and well worn work boots.  I was happy to see my family and discuss more pressing matters such as school work, a new batch of baby bunnies and whether or not it's going to rain soon.  It was great to go to the city and talk business with the big boys but it's also nice to get home to my quite little Kona coffee farm.

Anaheim Marriot Hotel
Burundi Samples Machine

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