Augusto Solano

President, Asocol Flores

In Colombia, the strength is that we have over 100 species, and in each species there are many varieties. Colombia handles about 1,600 varieties, meaning that it is not one particular flower that is in demand, but the fact that we have many. That is very important because it allows us to build the bouquet industry, especially for supermarkets. Many of those bouquets are made here in Colombia, which means there is more value-added and labor. The entrepreneurship of our growers is a big distinction, along with the position we have built over in the US, which is our main market. About 80% of the volume of flowers that the US imports comes from Colombia. Our location and the quality of our flowers are the most important issues. The biggest challenge and the one we have been facing for a few years now is the appreciation of the peso. A weak dollar and a strong peso is very difficult, because in our cost component we have a high participation of labor, and with labor there is not much room for negotiation.

Hernán Méndez Bages

President, Juan Valdez

Today, the industry for coffee in coffee shops is very active in Colombia. We have excellent operators and competition, and we could say that our company created that quality. Before us, people tended to drink tinto, which is more or less like a cup of American coffee in the US. We aimed to create a friendly ambience in our store, and convince people to start trying cappuccinos, espressos, and different types of coffee. We tried to develop that culture in Colombia, offering coffee prepared in many different ways. A very important aspect of our company is that it has raised awareness about Colombia's many different coffee profiles. The coffee that you get from the Sierra Nevada is very different from that what is grown in Cauca or Huila. The reason for such a big difference is the various altitudes and latitudes in which coffee is grown in Colombia. Also, depending on the type of soil, very different coffee profiles can be achieved. We have four different regions represented year round in our stores.

Luz Adriana Osorio Londoño

General Manager, CasaLuker

The main challenge is to boost cocoa production at the national level. In fact, the Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development is targeting annual production figures of 200,000 tons as part of its 10-year plan. The government is using cocoa, among other products, to attract farmers who grow illicit drugs to change their crops. We have to bear in mind that climate conditions—humidity, soil, sea level, and altitude—in those areas where traditionally illicit crops have been very common are very suitable to grow cocoa. Colombia currently has 135,000 cocoa hectares, and we believe that we need to grow. CasaLuker is actively contributing to this strategy by implementing pilot projects across the country and by carrying out talks via provincial associations to explain the benefits of cultivating cocoa, as well as techniques to boost productivity, efficiency, and profitability preserving the quality. Technology and know-how transfer is very important, and the country should also invest in human capital because there is currently a lack of expertise in these areas.

Martin Mueller

General Manager, British American Tobacco (BAT) Colombia

Our industry comes with many challenges, one of which is the growth of illicit trade. Regretfully, the legal market is shrinking while the illegal sector is growing month after month. In Colombia, around 14% of the sector is represented by the illegal trade, a phenomenon that has grown over the past few years. This challenge in itself is costing the country millions of dollars that would and should be invested in activities that contribute to the country's social development. There are a number of measures implemented by the local and regional governments against the illicit trade of tobacco, in which we have actively participated: we have been heavily involved in training the police and providing them with the information and skills required in order to identify contraband accurately. We are working closely with the National Trade Association on educational campaigns that are focused on shopkeepers, along with another strategies aimed at consumers. Every person plays a part in contributing to a culture of illegality within the country and this has to stop.