Micro-mill or Mass Market? Organizational Crossroads in Costa Rican Coffee Cooperatives

by: Steven Samford

Publication Date: June 20, 2022
Length: 14 pages
Product ID#: 6-199-214

Core Disciplines: Base of the Pyramid, Economics, International Business, Social Impact, Strategy & Management, Sustainability

Partner Collection:

Available Documents

Click on any button below to view the available document.

Don't see the document you need? Don't See the Document You Need?
Make sure you are registered and/or logged in to our site to view product documents. Once registered & approved, faculty, staff, & course aggregators will have access to full inspection copies and teaching notes for any of our materials.


Need to make copies?

If you need to make copies, you MUST purchase the corresponding number of permissions, and you must own a single copy of the product.

Electronic Downloads are available immediately after purchase. "Quantity" reflects the number of copies you intend to use. Unauthorized distribution of these files is prohibited pursuant to term of use of this website.

Teaching Note

This product has a teaching note available. Available only to Registered Educators. Please login to view it.


This case describes a group of neighboring small coffee farmers in Costa Rica led informally by Elías Hernández. In August 2021, the group is weighing a decision to remain part of a large agricultural cooperative (roughly 1,000 members) or form a smaller, more local cooperative with only a dozen or so neighbors as members. They would like to make a decision before the next harvest in October, 2022. The fictionalized CobruCoop is typical of large coffee cooperatives: vertically integrated, staffed by professionals (accounting, marketing, etc.), and generally in the business of bulk/commodity production. The alternative micro-mill cooperative model leaves more processing—and freedom to add value by specialized production—to the growers themselves and has become increasingly common in recent years. Either way, like the majority of smallholding agricultural producers in Costa Rica and elsewhere, these growers have farms that are too small for them to each own the processing equipment themselves.

The case is designed to help students understand how cooperative enterprises benefit member-owners and evaluate why members might prefer one cooperative form over another.

Teaching Objectives

After reading and discussing the material, students should:

  • Describe what member-owned cooperative enterprises are and describe how producer cooperatives benefit members.
  • Infer why agricultural producers in general, and small growers in developing countries in particular, choose to belong to cooperatives.
  • Identify sources of organizational stability in cooperatives.
  • Compare the benefits of commodity/bulk production and specialized production of agricultural goods.
  • Compare the benefits (and drawbacks) of the alternative forms of cooperatives presented.
  • Select one form as the best option for these producers, justify that decision, and determine what conditions might justify the selection of the alternative form.