Colombian coffee company Juan Valdez kicks off U.S. expansion with downtown Miami café


The farmer-owned company is planning to open about 60 South Florida stores before adding franchises in Texas and California.

Caffeine lovers, cancel your trip to Bogotá: Farmer-owned Colombian coffee company Juan Valdez has landed in downtown Miami.

Jump-starting its long-stalled U.S. expansion, Juan Valdez had a soft opening of the first of 60 planned South Florida cafés Monday at 101 NE Second Ave. The store will officially open to the public on Monday.

The new locations will join an older one that’s at Miami International Airport.

Monday, the coffee shop in downtown Miami was packed to the gills with local franchisees and winners of the Juan Valdez social media contest to meet members of the Colombian national soccer team.

Dozens of people crowded on the sidewalk hoping for a glimpse of soccer star Radamel Falcao — and to celebrate their Colombian heritage.

“We’re so proud that our coffee’s so known,” said Danna Contreras, 18, who wore a James Rodriguez jersey.

Although the café left most fans outside in the heat waiting for Falcao, many seemed proud that a Colombian coffee giant was represented in the heart of Miami.

Se vive, se siente, Colombia está presente,” Contreras led the crowd in chanting. “We live it, we feel it, Colombia is here.”

Juan Valdez is entering a Starbucks-dominated market just five days after the Seattle company opened its first Colombian store. Executives believe Miamians will recognize the mustachioed Juan Valdez character and his mule as synonymous with quality.

“Consumers in the States are learning what is a good cup of coffee and what is not,” said Alejandra Londoño, vice president of international business for Juan Valdez.

Juan Valdez has hired 10 people to staff the first two cafés in downtown Miami; the second café will open Aug. 10 at 364 NE First St. Two more downtown stores will follow by 2016, with a goal of 60 stores in South Florida in five years. The company also hopes to tackle the Texas and California markets, where brand recognition is high.

Juan Valdez offers many of the same drinks Americans are used to — espressos, lattés — along with regional blends such as the cedar-and-vanilla Santander and Huila, known for its sweetness and body.

The pricing will likely draw the same clientele as your local Starbucks: A 12-ounce latté in the new Juan Valdez store goes for $2.95, a 16-ounce for $3.65.

Juan Valdez had struggled to create a U.S. presence during the recession. A flagship Times Square store struggled, and the company operated in the red until 2012.

But the first quarter of 2014 saw profits of more than $525,000, and operating income increased 20 percent from the same period last year.

This time around, Juan Valdez is counting on fuller consumer pockets, a franchise model and the millennial consumer. Younger buyers like to know that their purchases make a difference in the world, Londoño said.

Internationally, Juan Valdez operates more than 270 stores in 13 countries. Aggressive expansions in Southeast Asia and the Middle East will nearly double that number by 2019, Londoño said.

Since its inception in 2002, the company has given $20 million to Colombian farmers through its owners, the National Federation of Colombian Coffee Growers. Londoño said she believes that business model will capture the hearts of American consumers even before it captures their taste buds.

“This is a brand that is owned by the coffee growers,” Londoño said. “So for every cup of coffee or everything that is sold in our café, in every outlet that we have worldwide, a portion of that goes directly to the coffee growers.”

American consumers are also starting to understand coffee the way they do wine, Londoño said: Different flavors come from different regions. The cafés will offer “cupping sessions,” or tastings, to teach customers about flavors and aromas.

Meanwhile, Andres Cantillo, 22, is among those eager to see the new Juan Valdez cafe. Cantillo, who moved to Miami from Colombia at age 10, was once a Starbucks barista. But he’s glad to have a new option.

“I’ve gotten tired of Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts,” he said on Monday. “I needed something new. Sometimes Cuban [coffee] is too strong.”

Starbucks sells a lot of Colombian coffee, so the product may not be too different, he said. “It’s going to be the same coffee, but brewed with Colombian heart instead of American heart.”

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