Sunday, August 19, 2012

Good Health and the Middle Class Dilemma

It would not hurt to invest a little money when it comes to good health. This statement is true but it limits the discussion of health to economics. The realization of good health is both a social phenomenon and a communal effort which requires active and constructive participation and maintenance by members of a social class. 

Good health is relative to social class and by this I do not mean that the poor are the least healthy and the wealthy are the most vibrant due to their access to health care. No, there is another dimension that remains untouched in the discussion of health among social classes.  The struggling yet socially mobile middle class are potentially the unhealthiest among the social classes.  And this is not  because  of  access to health  care or issues of economics  and affordability  rather  this is  an issue  of  lifestyle options  and alternatives as  determined  or  limited by  an established  middle class social  life—food, leisure,  expectations, aspirations,  etc.  

My discussion  of health in  the middle class  will  go as  far as figuring  out why the  middle class  are less interested  in  having  a healthy lifestyle  than their  lower  and  upper class  counterparts.  Since I cannot give  a detailed  demographic  description of  who the middle  class  are for this  discussion,  I would like  to assume  that there is such a  thing  as  a  “middle  class  way of life” – a lifestyle  commonly  associated with  the middle  class  but  is openly  and  unconsciously practiced by  all  social  classes. To  put it  more  simply,  these  are the people  who spend  their mornings,  break  times or  idle moments,  and  evenings  connected  to  the  Internet consuming loads  of  information  and  data. Given this assumption, I think it is safe to say that these people  possess or  have access to computers or  mobile  phones.  

My Assumptions (not based on  empirical  evidence and  are subject to  further  research  in  the Philippine  context,  or  Los  Banos context   in our  case)
-          -Good  health is social
-       -   Good health practices  should be replicable  and  practical to  everyone  who are  willing  to lead  a  healthy  life
-        -  Farmers and lower  class  citizens  have access  to  organic food  since their  own  organic  produce  revolves  around their families and small communities
-          - Upper class citizens,  already  given that they have the  financial capacity  to  purchase organic  goods, are  closer  to  organic specialty  shops  since  they are  its target  market
-          - Middle class citizens are  usually  stuck in  a  sort of  “health  limbo”  because, generally, they don’t  want to get their hands  dirty  and  grow  produce themselves  and at the  same time they strive for a life  of luxury
-          - The middle  class  are the most susceptible  to  illness and  disease
-        -  The middle  class  diet includes  high  amounts of  sodium, caffeine, sugar,  and  cholesterol
-          - Increased  stress and expectations  leads  the  middle  class  to  consume  energy  -rich foods like  fatty  and  sugary ready-to-eat snacks  and meals.

What the Middle Class Need
-      -     A supportive environment to encourage good health  among the middle  class
-       -   Personal efforts/individual efforts and lifestyle choices by healthy individuals should  be  supported by  a  healthy social environment
-        -  A  social  environment with  a positive attitude towards  good health
-         - A social  environment that promotes organic agriculture
-         - A  social environment  that  views  healthy  living as a normal way  of life  and not just  for those of the  upper  or  lower  classes
-        -  A  healthy  social environment  that  gives emphasis  on  the  role of  the  community  for good health

My Recommendations
-     -      Responsible  entrepreneurship that would help  expand  healthy  options  and  lifestyle  alternatives in the  community
-       -   Organic  agriculture  and  backyard farming for self-consumption
-        -  Health-conscious  educational  curricula in  schools
-         - Health-sensitive  business  ideas and practices
-         - Los  Banos  has  already done  well in  promoting  fitness, now  it should be  augmented by  the  promotion  of  good  health  through proper  diet  by  way  of  organic  and healthy  food  businesses and  establishments like  local restaurants,  eateries and  organic vegetable markets. This would  give  the middle  class other  options  aside  from  fast foods,  convenience  stores,  and  tapsilog  stalls
-          - Emphasis of the UP Open University on Organic Agriculture in their PED and NEP courses to encourage and develop health-conscious entrepreneurs.  Emulating the  way UP  Rural High School  promoted and emphasized agriculture  to its students during our  time.
-          - The  link  between  organic  agriculture  and  entrepreneurship is a practical  solution in creating a  healthy  social  environment  and  supportive  community  of  good health.

-           To help formulate a practical approach  to healthy living in the  social context  of  today’s  middle  class society.

Other Problem/s:
-          Middle class living is  like a bouncing ball,  it never stays up or down for  a long  time.  When will the middle  class realize that health is a  major lifestyle  issue/concern when, generally, their main  focus  shifts up  and down from survival to  living  lavish  lifestyles? 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Coffee Consumer Education in Los Banos

For most people, our menu is pretty difficult to understand. That’s because the customer has to choose the kind of coffee they would want for their drink. That’s right, there are different kinds of coffee! Now for the coffee industry in-crowd, that’s not new but for 99.9%  (not based on empirical data) of Filipino coffee consumers, that’s a revelation!

I’ll be sharing our Los Banos experience in selling the different kinds of coffee that we have.
When it comes to coffee, the typical Elbi person will order according to his/her caffeine needs:

11) Gusto ko ng kape pero kelangan ko matulog. (I want coffee but I want to sleep)
K2) Kelangan ko magising ano ang pinaka matapang? (I need to stay awake, what’s your strongest coffee?)
33) Anong pinaka-masarap nyong kape? (What’s your best coffee?)

To address these needs, we named our coffee blends according to function: Sleepy Time, Hardcore, and Owltonio. Sleepy Time will not put you to sleep but it has the least caffeine among our three blends. Hardcore is kapeng barako and robusta to give you a caffeine high. And Owltonio is our in-between, mid-level, specialty of the house coffee that goes well with everything. Everyone who has been to Café Antonio knows that Owltonio is our stuffed snow owl mascot.

Now these coffee options are still within the context of ordering brewed coffee. It gets even difficult to explain that these three blends (which all work well with espresso) can be applied to any coffee-based beverage in the menu, hot or iced! MIND-BOGGLING!!! Which is good because it gives the baristas a chance to engage in a conversation with the customers. It is within these conversations that the customer learns that all three blends come from the Philippines, and four different species of coffee are used in the blends, etc. This is very difficult to pull-off, trust me!

To make things more difficult for our customers, we introduced a new line of single origin specialty coffees from different countries! All available for brewed coffee and some are fit for espresso-based beverages too. It’s always a joy for us when we explain the different kinds of coffee  and see our customers get interested and be coffee enthusiasts themselves.

Well of course, there are problems. Although brewed coffee is our best-seller, fruit shakes are its closest rival. Los Banos, Laguna reality check: We will prefer mango shakes over coffee any time of the day, no matter what the weather is. It is only here where you will find people sipping on Peachy Mango on a cold and stormy evening. To make people buy coffee, we have to evangelize to the highest level with blood pumping and hearts racing. We turn on the “patient and passionate coffee geek switch” and take our customers to a world where they’ve never been! Fellow coffee geeks find soul mates and exchange ideas and share techniques. While self-declared coffee snobs come here and go home empty-handed.

How do we educate? We literally sit down with people and involve them in the process of making coffee  beverages, like pour-over, espresso, latte, whatever. But we don’t do that to everyone, we do free demos and coffee tasting only to those who ask us questions and are willing to learn new things. Never force the issue. And believe me, we learn a lot from our customers too. We want it to be an exchange of ideas rather than a one-sided video lecture. These exchanges give us a window to the customer’s beliefs and perceptions about coffee.

How do we educate? As an entrepreneur and barista, I share my passion and the things that I learn from more knowledgeable coffee geeks to my baristas, the staff, and our customers. We simply can’t assume and expect that our customers already know the things that we know. Who knows, maybe the people we talk to would influence others as well. Thank you Mr. Bruce Milletto, you’re right. Consumer education is definitely the next step for the specialty coffee industry to flourish. 

Yes, the Los Banos coffee experience. No cramped offices, no tall buildings. Our shop is located in front of a sari-sari store, and we’re sandwiched in the middle of a vulcanizing shop and a small car wash along the National Highway.