Why American Companies Should ‘Just Say Yes’ to Colombia

A cultural rebirth and rebounding economy make this South American gem worth considering.

By Erin Hallstrom, Digital Content Director

As a child of the 1980s, I have vivid memories of watching the nightly news alongside my parents and hearing about the drug cartels in Colombia. I was raised on a healthy diet of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” programs, and all I knew about Colombia at the time was the word "cartel" was synonymous with drug-smuggling warlords.

As I grew older, my opinion of Colombia changed as I became friends with second-generation Colombian women in the U.S. I was inspired by their love of country and culture. When the opportunity came for me to visit Colombia in June, a dose of wanderlust and news of Colombia’s booming economic development drew me in.

The host for my visit was the marketing arm of the Bogota chamber of commerce. Invest in Bogota, and its sister segment, ProColombia, assist companies from around the world who are considering setting up shop in Colombia.

Several Top 100© food and beverage companies have caught heat recently for their decisions to outsource manufacturing to Central and South America; however, attractive economic options make it worth the risk.

According to data collected by ProColombia, that country has become an economic powerhouse in recent years. It boasts a GDP of $94 billion, one of the strongest in all of Latin America. Its average growth in the last 10 years has been 4.6 percent, which is almost an entire percentage point above the rest of Latin America, which sits at 3.8 percent.

The country boasts a labor force of more than 4.6 million people and one of the most stable economies in South America. Because of free trade agreements, Colombia is poised to offer foreign investors a myriad of economic and agricultural incentives.

Several international food & beverage companies already have set up operations in Colombia, including Nestle, Kellogg, Mondelez, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Dole. As more American companies look abroad, Colombia is a worthy contender. Brimming with culture and hospitality, the country also lays claim to several global agricultural records. It is the third largest coffee producer in the world, and the fourth largest producer of palm oil.

One such company that has utilized ProColombia and Invest in Bogota is Dole Food Co. Dole invested approximately $18 million in a processing plant in the Madrid, Cundinamarca, region. A visit to the 40,000-square-meter plant, which opened in March 2015, allowed me to see an actual carrot and head of lettuce move from the field to the plant to packaging all within several hours. Talk about farm fresh.

This particular plant produces vegetables for direct consumption to local retailers and foodservice establishments. A small area is also dedicated to its banana export business as well.

Much like in the U.S., “Time is currency” has become the rally cry of today’s Colombian consumer. Supermarkets are packed with pre-packaged salads and single-serve meals. The similarities don’t stop there. Obesity is nearing epidemic proportions and Colombian health officials struggle to relay "healthy" messages to consumers.

Labeling initiatives have followed a similar pattern as they have in the U.S., not only in their markings but also in their ability to confuse consumers.

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