The International Coffee Festival this year at Bangalore has focussed attention on a vital aspect of the promotion of commodities in India —- notably, of giving them a brand identity. Barring Basmati rice and Darjeeling tea, few Indian commodities have acquired brand equity. Commodities like sugar, tobacco and a host of Indian spices, herbs, fruits and flowers deserve a better market identity both at home and globally. Apart from seeking subsidies and price support, commodity associations in India have rarely invested their energy in improving quality and brand development and promotion. This is certainly true for coffee, as has been widely commented at the Bangalore coffee festival last week. With the growing upmarket demand for good quality coffee in metropolitan India, not to mention the already robust global demand for quality coffee, Indian coffee producers must work double quick to build their brand image. Already in the newly opened coffee outlets African and Latin American coffees are making their presence felt and consumers are beginning to discover the flavour of good coffee.
This challenge becomes all the more pressing at a time when there is a glut in the global market and coffee prices are on a downward spiral. Brandless commodities cannot easily survive the ups and downs of global markets. The only way in which a commodity can try and insulate itself from such vicissitudes is to create a loyal band of dedicated consumers and this requires brand building. As Indian coffee growers and cuppers have repeatedly pointed out, Indian arabica coffee has its own distinct and special identity in that it is grown in the neighbourhood of spice plantations and acquires the flavour of pepper, cardamom and other spices. The fact that Indian coffee plantations have not been developed at the expense of forestry cover, since the coffee plant is often grown under shade also adds to its appeal in an environment-friendly market place of young consumers. The point has been made that Latin American and African coffee brand identities were specifically developed with the western market in mind and Indian coffee producers must make this investment now. Equally, they must also invest in tapping the home market since coffee drinking in India is still limited and there is no reason why coffee cannot edge aerated soft drinks out of the market.