Scope#19 | Cia Iguaçu de Café Solúvel

A Taste of Brazil: The Instant Coffee Tailor-Made with Passion

Thomas Jefferson, a Founding Father of the United States, once said that coffee is “the favorite drink of the civilized world.”

Indeed, the world loves coffee. We consume about 159 million bags of coffee a year (each bag contains 60 kilograms of coffee), according to statistics from the International Coffee Organization. It takes about 10 grams of coffee to make a cup, so people around the globe drink approximately 2.5 billion cups of coffee each day.

Among more than 50 countries that grow coffee, Brazil is the largest exporter supplying more than one third of the world’s total production. The country produces two types of coffee (arabica and robusta) in six regions, each of which has a different climate; this diversity yields a variety of flavors.

Brazil is also the world’s largest producer of instant coffee. Among the nation’s top manufacturers is Iguaçu, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Marubeni. At its state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Cornélio Procópio, Paraná, a city with fewer than 48,000 people, the company makes more than 20,000 tons of soluble-coffee products each year.

“We are able to reach any desired quality for any market by using different raw materials and different industrial processes,” says Edivaldo Barrancos, the president of Iguaçu, “Basically, we are a tailor-making factory.”

Seventy-five percent of Iguaçu’s products are shipped to its client companies in 50 different countries. Coffees are made using various methods according to the clients’ specific needs: freeze-dried, spray-dried, and agglomerated (these are powdered products), as well as coffee extracts (liquid). While the company makes private-label products for some clients, the majority of its products are sold in bulk. Iguaçu’s coffee is used as an ingredient to make ready-to-drink coffee or coffee-based products like instant cappuccino.

“I fell in love with coffee.”

Some markets demand high-quality arabica while others want 50/50 blends of arabica and robusta, but more often than not, the clients’ desired profiles of coffee are more specific.A client wants darker roasts that can create a strong “coffee impact” either as black or white (after being mixed with milk), but for another client, good aroma is their top priority.

The first step in custom tailoring is for the Research and Development Team, which is comprised of highly specialized food engineers, to study and run an extensive analysis of a reference sample that comes from the client.
“We analyze it in all aspects: the sensorial, physical, moisture, and chemical,” says Karina Kaminari Konno, R&D coordinator, who joined Iguaçu 16 years ago, starting as an intern while studying food science at university.
“I decided to stay because I fell in love with coffee,” Konno recalls. As she learned to make a recipe according to the desired profile, she became fascinated. “Coffee is the world of passion,” she says.

The next step is a trial using the company’s topnotch pilot plant, which Konno describes as the “innovation laboratory.” With this lab, the R&D Team can carry out a fast, full-scale product development without interrupting the manufacturing line.

Just like a freshly-brewed cup of coffee

All phases of Iguaçu’s production are stringently controlled and monitored, starting from the inspection of green coffee beans. Highly trained staff members with a Q Grader certificate (an international license that trains coffee professionals to accurately access the quality of coffee) perform a rigorous sampling of the cargo upon its arrival. They examine the beans for moisture content, defects, and ochratoxin A - a food contaminant - and of course the flavor.

They do a coffee tasting called “cupping” to check if the beans meet the specifications. Like wine sommeliers, experienced tasters, who can identify sensory features of coffee, sit at a rotating table, sniffing and slurping coffee. To ensure that all the products are prepared to the highest quality, cupping also takes place after the extraction, as well as when the final product comes out.

At the manufacturing plant, the inspected green coffee beans are roasted, coarsely ground, and then sent to the extraction machine. The extracted liquid coffee is then processed using different methods to be separated from the water, increasing its concentration. The thick, concentrated liquid coffee is then converted to coffee crystals, either with very low temperatures (freeze-dried) or higher temperatures (spray-dried). The spray-dried coffee may also go on to the agglomeration process, where steam-added particles are bound together, and then re-dried, forming coffee granules.

Freeze-drying is more costly because of its higher retention of the original flavor; therefore it is used for high-quality products. The agglomerated is commonly used for making iced coffee because of its high solubility in cold water.

Making their products smell and taste like a freshly-brewed cup of coffee is the biggest challenge for instant coffee suppliers. It is particularly true with the retention of aroma, because it is naturally lost during the production.

Iguaçu is one of the few instant coffee companies that utilizes the freeze-concentration process, which helps minimize the loss of aroma. This enables coffee to be concentrated at freezing temperature, thus ensuring the retention of the original aroma and flavor. To maintain the integrity of the product, the freeze-concentrated coffee extracts are shipped in freezer containers to destinations such as Japan and Korea, where these are used by beverage companies to make premium ready-to-drink coffee.

The world is drinking more coffee.

“Our factory is operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, so it is very important to keep investing in the maintenance of our factory in order to continue our operations without any problems,” Barrancos says.

New machinery like the freeze-dry equipment is one of the most recent investments Iguaçu has made amid growing global market demand, which increases at 1~2 percent annually. In North Africa as well as some parts of Asia, such as China and India, Iguaçu has seen a stronger growth exceeding 10 percent per year.

“If you look at the history, in the markets where people used to drink tea, like Japan, the U.K, and Russia, before they started to drink roasted-ground regular coffee, they started drinking soluble coffee that is similar to the way you prepare tea: just using hot water,” Barrancos says.

Embracing the Japanese Spirit: 5S and Kaizen

Before many coffee farms were devastated by a series of winter frosts during the 1970s, the state of Paraná was supplying nearly 80 percent of Brazil’s total production. Iguaçu was founded in 1967 by local coffee farmers, who were seeking opportunities to use their abundant stock to develop instant coffee. In 1972, Marubeni acquired a 35 percent share of the company’s capital, marking the beginning of its increased financial stability, globalization, and technological advances. In 2014, Marubeni acquired a 100 percent share.

“Marubeni brought more advanced technology from Japan and reinforced Iguaçu’s manufacturing capacity,” says Yoshisato Esaka, vice president of Iguaçu. The Japanese engineers, who were delegated to provide technological training at Iguaçu, also introduced “5S,” workplace disciplines commonly practiced among Japanese manufactures: seiri (sort), seiton (set in order), seiso (shine), seiketsu (standardize), shitsuke (sustain).

Twenty-five years after its implementation, 5S has prevailed in literally every nook and cranny of the company. The factory and the office buildings are kept clean at all time. Tools and stationery goods are neatly stored in their designated boxes or trays. The employees never cut across the way on the premises; they walk on the crossing zone. What’s more, they created a 5S mascot, a coffee-bean character that acknowledges the departments that win a gold, silver, or bronze medal.

“They understood and embraced the Japanese values, and 5S became a very important part of Iguaçu’s corporate culture,” says Esaka, adding that even the Japanese clients are impressed when they visit Iguaçu and see how 5S is effectively in place. Even top management officers, like Esaka and Barrancos, are not exempt. The “patrol” team inspects their desks as well. Esaka often hears the employees saying that they also practice 5S at home - the drawers in their living rooms are neatly organized.
“5S is incorporated into everything we do. It helped improve our productivity and the quality of our products, as well as build our clean corporate image,” Esaka says, “This positive cycle motivates every one of us to do everything conscientiously.”

Growing together as a big family…

The coffee industry has experienced some difficult times in the past because of the price volatility in the coffee market. Iguaçu was not an exception. To maximize productivity and mitigate difficulties, the company always has the target to keep the factory running 24 hours a day during 365 days a year.
“You need to grow. There is no other choice,” says Barrancos adding that Iguaçu is currently re-engineering its entire operation to define the future of the company in response to ever-changing markets and dynamics of the competition. “We always have opportunities to do some kaizen (the Japanese word for “improvement”),” Barrancos says, “The key differentiator of Iguaçu is our people and the way they perform. In everything we do, we think about how to do it better.”

As Barrancos proves himself by marking his 34th year at Iguaçu, other employees also stay at the company for a number of years, passing down its traditions from one generation to the next. Esaka emphasizes that the company’s biggest strength is the fact that the employees feel they are part of the Iguaçu family.
“Our philosophy is to provide the Brazilian coffee experience to people around the world by making affordable, yet high-quality products,” Esaka says. “We work together as a family toward our common goals, transforming Iguaçu into an even stronger company for the next 50 years.”