COFFEE'S TASTE, AROMA CENTURIES OLD, BUT MARKETING NEW

COFFEE'S TASTE, AROMA CENTURIES OLD, BUT MARKETING NEW

People have been brewing coffee for at least 10 centuries, and though the gadgetry has changed, the process is basically the same.

Not so the marketing of coffee.As competition from soft drinks, fruit juices, mineral waters and even consomme has picked up, marketing has become increasingly sophisticated. And Colombia, which created the mythical coffee grower, Juan Valdez, to tout its coffee 29 years ago, is far ahead of the pack in promoting its coffee.

The National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia spends about $36 million a year in advertising. Brazil, the world's largest coffee producer, spends only a fraction of that amount.

We're really the only country that spends a lot of money advertising and opening markets, said Jorge Cardenas, general manager of the growers federation.

While the symbol of Juan Valdez is still going strong as a coffee promotion tool, these days Colombia is using a range of ads. One features a plane that returns to the airport because someone forgot the Colombian coffee. Another uses a cow whose markings resemble a picture of Valdez. The slogan: Cream good enough for Colombian coffee isn't exactly easy to find.

The goal of the growers federation is to portray Colombian coffee as one of the finest coffees in the world and to show the care with which it is harvested and processed. The Suave, or mild, coffee fetches premium prices.

The federation also encourages roasters to emphasize quality by advertising that its blends use 100 percent Colombian coffee or a high content of Colombian coffee.

Last year the promotion began to pay off, with more Americans being lured back to coffee, the federation believes. Daily coffee consumption in the United States peaked at more than three cups per person in the early 1960s and then slid downward as soft drinks became a national habit. It perked slightly upward in 1987, to 1.76 cups per person compared with 1.74 cups in 1986.

While coffee producers are encouraged by the improvement, they know they still have a tough battle ahead.

They are warily watching Coca-Cola's Coke in the Morning campaign to encourage Americans to drink Coke with breakfast.

This is very worrisome to us, and we should get upset about it, said the federation's Mr. Cardenas. You have to remember that now 40 percent of the coffee that is consumed is drunk at breakfast.

Colombian coffee officials would like to see coffee-producing nations create a world fund to recapture former coffee drinkers who have switched to soft drinks, said Mr. Cardenas.

Brazil takes honors as the world's largest coffee producer, but nowhere in Latin America is coffee so intimately linked with the national culture and so important to the economy as in Colombia.

Not only does it account for 55 to 60 percent of Colombia's export earnings, but the coffee business provides work for two million of Colombia's 29 million people.

Still, coffee consumption within Colombia is below the seven to eight pounds per person that are drunk each year in the United States and is well under the 24 to 25 pounds per person consumed in the Scandinavian countries. Only about 18 percent of Colombian coffee production estimated this year at 13 million 60-kilo bags - is consumed locally.