Beyond the Daily Grind: Coffee Research Brews Opportunity in Costa Rica

girl holding a cup of coffee in a tropical environment

Honors International Business/Marketing major Alexandra Somborn conducted her undergraduate research on perceptions of Costa Rica and their influence on new business ventures, particularly linked to coffee. Although she originally dreaded the process, her project evolved into much more than she expected – even paving the way to her first post-graduate job in Costa Rica. 

I did not expect that I would enjoy the Honors research process as much as I did. In my head, I imagined it to be this awful process of collecting data, making graphs and writing 100+ pages of information. In the end, however, it was a tool with real-world applications that even helped me land my first job.

I conducted my research on people’s perceptions of Costa Rica and how those perceptions influence purchasing habits – specifically related to coffee. As it turns out, I will soon be working in the marketing department of a coffee company – which is completely relevant to my research. You can bet that I used the information I had gathered in my interview with the company. That was definitely one of the most exciting parts of the honors research process.

As mentioned, my research was conducted on people’s perceptions of Costa Rica, which I learned are very limited – specifically related to the tourism industry. Most people only view Costa Rica as a vacation destination, and only about 46% of the almost 200 people I surveyed actually knew where Costa Rica is located on a map. In my survey, I asked for people’s perceptions before and after a Costa Rica re-branding video, wherein they showcase the diverse opportunities that Costa Rica offers in terms of economic gains, political stability and technological innovation.

esencial costa rica re-branding video

Esencial Costa Rica rebranding video

After watching the re-branding video, most people agreed that their perceptions changed and they would give Costa Rica a closer look.

Another aspect of my research involved collecting information on people’s purchasing habits as it relates to certifications, country-of-origin and coffee. My research aligned with published research that claims that people focus mostly on brand, price and roast of coffee when looking to purchase.

Coffee pie chart showing percentage of coffee purchased that is roast, instant, certified, etc.

I also found that even though certifications (Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade, etc.) provide an element of trustworthiness for consumers, denotation of certifications or country-of-origin does not necessarily influence purchasing behavior.

In conclusion, I found that people’s overall perceptions of Costa Rica appear to be more negative in terms of economic and political stability, standard of living, public transportation, etc., and that a poor country image could result in a lack of interest from a new business perspective. I also discovered that country-of-origin and the presence of certi­fications play a role, albeit small, in the decision-making process of consumers. New businesses should seek to focus more on price, roast and brand equity to bolster loyalty than showcasing country-of-origin and certi­fications. In terms of how people generally view Costa Rica, they are simply uninformed. For the general population, perception is reality. Before the video, people only saw Costa Rica as a vacation destination, but after the video, people had a better sense of its technological advancement and innovation.

I was honored to have the opportunity to work with Dr. Molly Rapert on my Honors research. She helped me put together a timeline for my entire research process and with her prior experience, I was able to follow the timeline successfully and avoid any setbacks or surprises. She helped guide me in the research process, but also left me free to be creative and make my research relevant and interesting. I never felt burdened or forsaken by her role in the process and her level of involvement was perfect.

As mentioned, my honors research actually helped me land my first job. After graduation in May 2014, I am planning to move to Costa Rica to begin my career in the e-commerce marketing department of a gourmet coffee and chocolates company. I am beyond excited for this opportunity and I know that my research on perceptions of Costa Rica and the coffee industry helped get me to this point. I was terrified of the research process at first, but once I realized I could pick something that genuinely interested me and that I didn’t mind investing a significant amount of time in, it was worthwhile in the end.

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