Costa Rica’s economy continues to show healthy growth, estimated at over 10% throughout 2012, which is expected to continue into year 2013.
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Food Service - Hotel Restaurant Institutional
Hotel, Restaurant and Food Service Sector Report
Kelly Stange, Agricultural
Illeana Ramirez, Marketing
Costa Rica’s economy continues to show healthy growth, estimated at over 10% throughout 2012,
which is expected to continue into year 2013. After great efforts were made towards increasing tourism,
Costa Rica is now considered a popular destination that received an accounted two million visitors
during 2011 with a subsequent increased demand and opportunity for the hotel and restaurant business
and U.S. food exports.
I. Market Overview
Tourism is one of Central America’s top areas of economic opportunity for 2009-2013, and Costa
Rica’s natural beauty extends from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea, yet its distance is barely 200
miles across, occupying only 20 thousand square miles. For such a small country, Costa Rica is one of
most highly sought after tourist destinations in the region. This small piece of land includes all of the
necessary components to satisfy the taste of thousands of travelers visiting each year.
Costa Rica’s territorial division includes 7 provinces, which are: San José, Alajuela, Cartago, Heredia,
Guanacaste, Puntarenas, and Limón. Together they offer an attractive tourist destination that include
extensive rainforests, volcanoes, rivers running between the mountains, expansive beaches and natural
resources safeguarded by an organization of national parks and forest reserves. Tourism is one of the
main economic sectors of Costa Rica, representing an important source of foreign currency of Costa
Rica’s economy. Since 1999, tourism generates more income than the traditional crops of banana,
pineapple and coffee together.
The tourism sector really took off in 1987, growing from $329,000 in 1988 to a historical record of
$2.196 million in 2011. In 2010, tourism contributed 5.5% of Costa Rican GDP and 21,2% of foreign
currencies generated by the total exports. New foreign direct investment in Costa Rica from all countries
was US$1.45 billion in 2010, US$ 1.35 billion in 2009, US$2.07 billion in 2008, US$1.9 billion in
2007, US$1.5 billion in 2006, and US$861 million in 2005. Just over half of that investment has come
from the United States.
The economy experienced a rebound in 2011 with a 3.8% GDP growth rate. Costa Rica enjoys the
region’s highest standard of living, with a per capita income of about US$11,000 and an unemployment
rate of 6.7%. Consumer price inflation is high but relatively constant at about a 10% annual rate over
the last decade.
The continuous immigration of American, Canadian and European retirees that move permanently to
Costa Rica or live half a year in Costa Rica are contributing to growing immigration numbers. There is
also a new category called medical tourism, comprised of foreigners that come to Costa Rica to receive
medical treatments at reasonable prices compared to the United States. The variety of different
nationalities that either visit or live in Costa Rica as tourists or temporary residents also creates the
framework for a wide variety of restaurants. In Costa Rica there are restaurants offering different kinds
of specialties with an ample offering of international and ethnic foods and the demand for increased
variety in the market continues to grow.
II. Market Structure
Costa Rica, over the last decades, maintains a very aggressive promotional campaign to position itself as
a tourist destination. Infrastructures are being improved and developed to accommodate the expected
increase in visitors.
There are two international airports in Costa Rica, Santamaria Airport in Alajuela and the Oduber
Airport in Liberia, Guanacaste which in the Pacific coast. U.S. airlines, such as American, Delta,
Continental, arrive at both airports. Oduber Airport has been remodeled recently.
U.S. and international hotel chains present in Costa Rica are: Marriott Costa Rica, Real
InterContinental, Indigo, Country Inn, Sheraton, Radisson, Holiday Inn, Riu, Westin, Courtyard
Marriott, JW Marriott, Four Seasons, Residence Inn, to mention a few. Relatively new tourism resorts
are also established and being developed in the Costa Rican coasts and also the B&B/boutique hotels
sector is growing rapidly.
Restaurants in the San Jose Metropolitan Area are very well developed. There are no statistics as to the
current number of restaurants, but due to increased tourism and international immigration, and that
Costa Rica middle and high income population has sophisticated dining tastes, the selection of
restaurants is ample with cuisine specialties such as: Argentine, Colombian, Chinese, Spanish,
Mediterranean, International, Italian, Indian, Japanese, Seafood, Mexican.
The wine sector has been growing tremendously in Costa Rica and every day new wine brands come
into the supermarkets and restaurant menus. Chile and Argentina’s wines continue to be top sellers due
to the price points at which they are available.
There is a large number of catering service companies and food franchises such as T.G.I. Friday’s, KFC,
Domino’s Pizza, Pizza Hut, Church’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, Popeye’s, Subway, Quiznos,
Wendy’s, Papa John’s and, most recently, Starbucks opened its first stores in San José.
The institutional segment includes hospitals, school cafeterias, correctional facilities, private sector
cafeterias and government institutions, which are privately owned or under concessions.
An interesting note on the food service sector in Costa Rica is that besides supplying hotels and
restaurants, they also serve a significant number of ships that transit by Caldera Port in Puntarenas and
Limón Port in Limón. There is also a single company, Casa Phillips, which provides food to the airlines
and is located by the Santamaría Airport.
III. Market Access
Costa Rica has an open economy and few market access problems. U.S. products enjoy a high quality
image and are well accepted. Customs clearance is relatively fast and straightforward. Most of the
import duties are being reduced in behalf of the FTA between Costa Rica and the United States.
As of June 2012, Costa Rica ranked 122 out of 185 countries in the 2013 World Bank's Ease of Doing
Business Index . This has hampered the flow of investment and resources badly needed to repair and
rebuild the country's public infrastructure, an infrastructure which has deteriorated over the years from a
lack of maintenance and new investment.
Infrastructure, in an overall sense (e.g., roads and bridges, water/wastewater, electricity generation,
airports and ports) is in substantial need of improvement. This represents both challenges and
opportunities. In many instances, deteriorated infrastructure will need to be improved if Costa Rica is to
remain competitive in the regional and world economy.
One of the most common market entry options is to appoint an agent or distributor or finding a local
partner who can provide market knowledge and contacts. Licenses or franchises are also popular in
Costa Rica. General commercial law will govern contracts or relations between vendors or suppliers
and the local company, person or distributor. Distribution services are mostly governed by private
agreements among the parties. Local laws also allow companies and individuals to import directly with
no intervention from agents or distributors. Most Costa Rican importers are fully bilingual, and business
practices in Costa Rica are very similar to those in the United States. It is advisable to have a
Distributor and/or a Customs Broker with experience. The exporter should coordinate with the importer
how to protect and register the product and/or trademarks.
It is worth noting that price is an important factor to consider in the Costa Rican market. Even though
there is a small percentage of the population more interested in quality and trend-setting goods, price is
still an important factor for the great majority of the population.
Well-known food service importers in Costa Rica are:
BELCA DE COSTA RICA
General Manager: Mr. Federico Serrano
Import Manager: Martha Soto
Phone: (506) 2293-4075
Fax: (506) 2239-0147
E-mail: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
MERCASA / GRUPO INTECA
Hellen Bogantes, New Product Develop
Phone: (506) 2250-5656
Fax: (506) 2250-5781
E-mail: email@example.com – firstname.lastname@example.org
General Manager: Mr. Jose Maroto
International Sales: Ms. Johanna Porras
Phone: (506) 2209-0500 x.175
E-mail: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
General Manager: Mr. Mario Colombo
Phone: (506) 2293-3896
DELIKA BY GOURMET IMPORTS DCR
General Manager: Mr. Jurgen F. Mormels
Phone: (506) 2281-2855
José López, Operations Vice-President
Phone: (506) 2283-4494
For further details on exporting please see our 2012 FAIRS Report
Major competitors for U.S. products may be divided by product and/or better tariffs due to Free Trade
Agreements signed with other countries such as Canada, Chile, Mexico, China, and Panama. Strong
competitors for snacks and processed foods are Central America and China. For fruits and other
products: Chile, Peru, and Spain. For grains and oils: Argentina, Canada, and Brazil. For meat:
Nicaragua, Chile, and New Zealand.
V. Best Prospects
High value products offer good market opportunities in Costa Rica, especially ready-to-eat or
convenience food, wholesome and healthy products. As a whole, best prospects for U.S. food exports to
Costa Rica are bulk commodities such as yellow corn, rice, soybean meal, and wheat flour. Fresh fruits
such as apples, grapes, peaches, nectarines and pears, organic foods, processed fruits and vegetables,
such as canned mixed vegetables, mixed fruits, yellow sweet corn, peas, mushrooms, and beans are also
very popular in the Costa Rican market.
A list of favorite imports from the HRI sector includes: French fries; snacks, frozen or ready-to eat
food, dairy foods (cheese, yogurt, butter), vegetable oil, frozen vegetables, dressings and marinades,
bakery ingredients, beef, poultry, rice.
As far as hotels and restaurants are concerned, San José, the capital, is well developed, but new
restaurants and ideas are always welcome and generally successful. New opportunities may be found at
the beaches/resort areas and smaller towns in the country side that still need to be developed and offer
good prospects of growth
VI. Entry Strategy and Recommendations
Appointing a local representative, distributor or commission agent may be a good option.
Television and newspaper advertising are the best promotion tools for the promotion of U.S. products.
E-mail marketing is also becoming increasingly popular. Trade shows, seminars and exhibitions are
also very effective tools for trade promotion.
Major local newspapers recommended for promotions are:
• LaNación: http://www.nacion.com
• La República: http://www.pa-digital.com.pa
• El Financiero: http://www.elfinanciero.com
VII. Contact List
1. U.S. Embassy Commercial, Agricultural and Trade-Related Contacts
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Foreign Agricultural Services (FAS)
Phone: (506) 2519-2285
Fax: (506) 2519-2097
Mr. Stephen Huete, Regional Agricultural Counselor (based in San Jose, Costa Rica)
Ms. Kelly Stange, Regional Agricultural Attaché (based in San Jose, Costa Rica)
Mr. Víctor González, Agricultural Specialist
Mrs. Illeana Ramírez, Agricultural Marketing Specialist
Ms. Cynthia Smith-Palliser, Agricultural Marketing Assistant
U.S. Commercial Service
Tel: (506) 2520-2271
Fax: (507) 317-1658
2. Public Institutions
Ministerio de Salud
Eng. Xinia Arias
Tel: (506) 2222-5749/2257-7821
Web Site: www.ministeriodesalud.go.cr
Ministerio de Comercio Exterior
(Ministry of Foreign Trade)
Mrs. Anabel González, Minister
Ms. Leonor Obando, Advisor
Tel: (506) 2299-4924 560-0661
Fax: (506) 2256-8489
Web Site: www.comex. go.cr
Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería
Ms. Ligia Quirós, SENASA
Tel: (506) 2260-86-48
Web Site: www.mag.go.cr
3. Private Institutions
American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham)
Ms. Catherine Reuben
Tel: (506) 2220-2200
Fax: (506) 2220-2300
Email: email@example.com - firstname.lastname@example.org
Web Site: www.amcham.co.cr
Cámara Nacional de Hoteles y Restaurantes
(Hotel and Restaurants National Chamber)
Mr. Alejandro Madrigal, Executive Director
Ms. Roxana Quirós, Assistant to the Executive Director
Tel: (506) 2222-2579 / 2222-0728 / 2233-9790 / 2233-9301
Telefax: (506) 2233-2892
E-mail: email@example.com – firstname.lastname@example.org