Exports of agricultural products to Costa Rica account for 17.6 percent of exports to Central America.
THIS REPORT CONTAINS ASSESSMENTS OF COMMODITY AND TRADE ISSUES MADE BY
USDA STAFF AND NOT NECESSARILY STATEMENTS OF OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT
Required Report - public distribution
GAIN Report Number:
Exporting to Costa Rica
Kelly Stange, Agricultural
Marie Anselm, FAS Intern
Costa Rica is an extremely attractive market for U.S. exports. Exports between 2010 and 2011
increased 31% and are showing no signs of declining. CAFTA-DR, as well as a public highly receptive
to U.S. food brands and retailers, makes the country ripe for export potential. Beer, baking ingredients,
processed meats, and pet food are among the fastest growing U.S. export sectors with plenty of growth
possible in other sectors as well.
I. Market Overview
A. Business Customs and Trade
Costa Rica has achieved a fairly high level of economic development, which combined with its political
stability, makes it one of the most promising trade partners in Central America. Exports of agricultural
products to Costa Rica account for 17.6 percent of exports to the region [source: BICO]. The signing of
the Central America-Dominican Republic-United States- Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) in 2009
has bolstered trade with Costa Rica and continues to encourage the expansion of exports to the country.
Exports of agricultural, fish, and forest products from the US to Costa Rica in 2011 reached a record
$665.8 million, an increase of 31 percent from 2010 [source: BICO]. Top US exports by major category
were, in millions of dollars: bulk, $412.4; intermediate, $82.6; consumer-oriented, $163.5; forest
products, $4.5; fish and seafood, $ 2.8. The United States is Costa Rica’s major supplier of corn,
wheat, soybeans, and consumer foods, as reflected by high export levels of these products. Rice is also
a major export of the U.S. to Costa Rica. However, due to high rice subsidies from the government of
Costa Rica (GOCR) to producers, the supply of domestic rice has grown and rice imports have
dropped. Currently the rice subsidy rate is being resolved through Costa Rica’s court system.
In contrast, the United States imported $1.52 billion worth of agricultural products from Costa Rica in
2011; fresh fruit and bananas and plantains combined accounted for 53 percent of this total.
Traditionally coffee, banana, and pineapple have all been major export commodities of Costa Rica, with
pineapple displacing coffee as the second largest agricultural export. Other major agricultural exports
of Costa Rica to the US include melon, fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, sugar, and nursery
products. [Data source: BICO]
In addition to the United States, according to the Global Trade Atlas (GTA), Costa Rica’s major import
suppliers of agricultural, fish, and forest products in 2011 by value were: US (42.96 percent), Mexico
(7.49 percent), Guatemala (6.55 percent), Nicaragua (5.39 percent), and Chile (4.97 percent).
With such a high-degree of trade, especially with the United States, Costa Rican importers are
accustomed to international business dealings. Many business people in Costa Rica are bilingual and
have some level of English thus facilitating business negotiations. However, the business culture in
Costa Rica can be less fast-paced than in the United States and those wishing to do business in the
country should be prepared for this possible difference. U.S. exporters should also be prepared to be
patient with export procedures and processes; Costa Rica has many levels of bureaucracy that can at
times slow the importation of food products.
B. Economic and Demographic Overview
Costa Rica’s economy is fairly diversified with services, tourism, agriculture, and high technology
being the dominant economic sectors. However, tourism remains important for the country which has
an international reputation as a top destination for ecotourism due to its abundant parks and
biodiversity. As such, tourism provides a thriving market for US exports that cater to the tastes of
Tourism suffered during the recession of 2009 which saw Costa Rica’s GDP contract by 2.5 percent.
Since then the tourism industry is recovering and the economy has rebounded, with GDP growing at a
rate of 3.8 percent in 2011 and showing signs of continued growth in 2012. Unemployment increased
slightly in 2011 to 7.7 percent, and inflation has remained at a rate of around 6 percent. Despite this, the
domestic market for American agricultural products is promising. [Data source: Central Bank of Costa Rica]
Costa Ricans still enjoy the highest standard of living in Central America with a per capita income of
about U.S. $8,860. Rising income is expected to generate increased demand for consumer goods,
including high-value food products, from this already steady consumer base. Also, it is worth noting
that the domestic consumer base consists of international immigrants who migrate to the country.
Americans represented 4 percent of immigrants to Costa Rica in 2011 according to the National Census,
and the steady presence of American expatriates in the country helps to fuel demand for American
products in Costa Rica. [Data source: Central Bank of Costa Rica]
Results from the National Population Census of 2011 indicate that the Central Valley (the provinces of
San Jose, Alajuela, Cartago, and Heredia) in Costa Rica constitutes the largest consumer base in the
country, containing 73.9 of the population. Overall, 72.8 percent of Costa Rica’s population consists of
urban residents with 19.1 percent living in poverty; in contrast 26 percent of rural residents live in
D. Advantages and Challenges in the Market Advantages
Political stability High levels of bureaucracy
Close proximity to US markets Legal process/outcomes sluggish,
uncertain at times
Fiscal incentives in free-trade zones U.S. recession hampering bilateral trade
and investment activity
CAFTA-DR: Insufficient resources make investor
phases out/lowers agricultural protection, contracts, intellectual
tariffs property laws, etc., difficult to enforce
(though there have been recent attempts
Eradicates dealer protection to remedy this)
provides US firms with non-
discriminatory treatment in
government procurement bids
strengthens investor protection
High levels of foreign direct investment Public infrastructure lacks adequate
maintenance (roads, bridges, water,
electricity generation, etc.)
Relatively high per capita income creates Problems obtaining a Certificate of Free
steady consumer base Sale make it difficult to register some
High levels of education, literacy Free Trade Agreement with China may
High presence of American food
establishments (restaurant franchises,
retail stores, etc.)
Consumers trust in the quality of U.S.
food products and follow U.S. market
Strong tourism sector provides
opportunity to develop HRI sector sales
More high-end grocery stores in tourism
areas outside San Jose metropolitan area
II. Exporter Business Tips
A. Business Customs and Keys to Success:
Business negotiations tend to proceed slower than in North American culture
Impatience is viewed poorly and may decrease credibility
Credit terms: 3 to 4 months can pass between the time the importer places an order to an exporter
to the time they collect payment from retailers
Knowledge of Spanish and some historical national moments are viewed positively
Spanish language in printed materials is preferred, although most Costa Ricans in the business
sector are bilingual
A personalized approach to business with consistent attention to service and delivery, frequent
visits, and follow-ups, goes far in Costa Rica
Navigation of Costa Rica’s import procedures can be tricky; work with experienced
representatives, agents, and importers, there are many in the country
Trademark registration and protection is important
Contracts should be in writing and made through consulting top decision-makers
Display samples and volume flexibility in orders aid business dealings
B. Consumer Tastes and Preferences
Traditional foods such as rice and beans remain staples in the Costa Rican diet, though new foods are
readily accepted by the population. Costa Rica for example, is the only country in the region where
prepared foods comprise a significant portion of household food budgets. Beef, rice, breads, and
vegetables, are typically the largest food expenditures for Costa Rican households. Soft drinks and
dairy follow these items in household purchases, with milk being consumed more than cheese. In
general, pork and fish are consumed less than other protein sources. Wheat and corn products are
widely consumed by the general population but are consumed in greater quantities by urban residents
than other populations.
Some differences do exist in the purchasing habits of consumers based on location. Rural consumers
for example, consume mostly rice, beef, vegetables and sugar while urban residents tend to demand
beef, bread, vegetables, and soft drinks. Urban consumers are more prone to eat more chicken and other
meats than their rural counterparts. Further, urban residents tend to be more health conscious in their
dietary habits and also consume more prepared meals than other segments of the population.
The upper and mid-upper classes are the target of most U.S. consumer-oriented products, with these
classes being both familiar and receptive to U.S. food and culture. These classes are apt to own
microwaves and freezers and purchase food products accordingly. Higher socio-economic classes also
tend to be the primary clients of supermarkets and fast food restaurants. However, though higher-
income consumers purchase the greatest quantities of fast food, they also consume the greatest
quantities of health and diet foods. Dining-out is not uncommon for these classes but is usually
reserved for weekends or special occasions.
Lower-middle and lower class consumers cook and eat most meals with the home and seldom dine in
restaurants. Good quality items are not overlooked by these consumers, but price is the most significant
factor in household food preferences. Overall lower-income customers spend less on food than
wealthier consumers, but shop more frequently.
C. Food Standards and Regulations
The international Codex Alimentarius norms serve as the basis for Costa Rica’s food production and
marketing regulations. Within Costa Rice four official entities are responsible for the regulation of food
Ministry of Health’s Registration and Control Department (Ministerio de Salud, Dirección de
Registros y Controles) – handles processed foods and beverages.
Plant and Animal Health Service (Servicio Fitosanitario y Direccion de Salud Animal) – handles
bulk agriculture, fresh fruits and vegetables and other products of fresh fruit/vegetable origin,
ornamental plants, fresh, chilled or frozen meat products.
National Animal Health Service (Servico Nacional de Salud Animal) – handles live animals,
products of animal origin - fresh meat and meat products, milk, cheese, eggs etc., pet food,
animal feed, and ingredients for pet/animal food.
Customs Office (Dirección General de Aduanas) – handles procedures for taxation purposes.
D. General Import and Inspection Procedures
1. Product Registration
Imported food products must be registered prior to importation at the Ministry of Health’s Registration
and Control Department (Ministerio de Salud, Dirección de Registros y Controles). Registration is
valid for five years and products are usually registered by importers. However, once a product is
registered it may be imported by a company other than the one which originally registered it. For this
reason, importers sometimes ask suppliers to share in the costs for the registration process. If a
company wants to import a product that has already been registered, the company must still pay the full
registration fee, which is currently set at $100 per product.
According to the Ministry of Health’s regulations, once all the required information is submitted, the
Ministry decides whether or not to grant registration. The Ministry of Health has five working days
after all the required documentation is submitted to process the registration request. However, due to
the volume of requests received it is not unusual for the registration process to take longer to complete.
In response to importers complaints about registration procedures and registration time, the GOCR now
allows food product registration via internet.
The GOCR is also implementing other procedures to expedite the process, such as allowing product
registration at locations other than the Ministry of Health’s headquarters.
Product samples shipped via express mail or parcel post are not subject to the registration process but
importer needs to write a letter to the Ministry of Health informing about shipping samples with not
commercial value and present the Certificate of Free Sale and other documentation related to sanitary
regulations and normal customs procedures.
According to a government decree, for registration purposes food products are classified as additives or
as raw materials. According to the General Health Law, if a product claims to have health related
benefits, the products will be classified as a medicine or drug and the registration process may be
different from that described below.
To register a product, the following documents must be submitted:
1. Registration request form signed by the legal representative of the company.
2. Free sale certificate issued by the health or other appropriate authority of the country of
origin, indicating that the products being exported to Costa Rica are allowed for free sale and
consumption in the country of origin. This document no longer needs to be authenticated by the Costa
Rican consul or countersigned by the Costa Rican Ministry of Foreign Relations. Since Costa Rica
joined the Hague Convention on Apostille, effective on December 14, 2011, the free sale certificate now
only requires an Apostille issued in the United States by the State Department of the state where the free
sale certificate was issued. The document may include one or several products and must be less than
two years old. If the document is written in a language other than Spanish, it must be accompanied
by an official translation.
3. 3. Original label of the product. If the label is in a language other than Spanish, an official
translation of the label must also be attached. If the label is printed directly on the container, an original
container and a copy of the label must be submitted.
4. Paid receipt of the registration fee, which according to current regulations is $100 per product.
Registration must be renewed every five years. The same requirements listed above are needed for
The Costa Rican Ministry of Health is responsible for the registration and authorization of import
permits for food products. The Costa Rican Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG) is
responsible for the registration and authorization of import permits for fertilizers and agricultural
products imported into the country. Sanitary and phytosanitary certificates are required for importing
bulk grain and horticultural products. Sanitary (USDA/FSIS) certificates are required for importing
fresh and frozen meats. In the case of processed meats, these sanitary certificates (FSIS 9060-5) are
also mandatory but are now accepted in place of a certificate of free sale (for these products only). Most
processed food products - canned, boxed, or pre-cooked - do not require phytosanitary or sanitary
certificates, but exporters should check with their importers, who are ultimately responsible for
complying with local regulations.
3. Customs Clearance
Costa Rican customs procedures are complex, although recent improvements such as the electronic “one
stop” import and export windows have significantly reduced the time required for customs processing.
The GOCR implemented its new TICA system which requires a seal to be randomly installed on
products to monitor their delivery from the port to the purchaser. Costa Rica generally does not require
any special documentation for the entry of goods other than commercial invoices, bills of lading, and
airway bills. Mail shipments require only postal documentation. Bulk agricultural products require
phytosanitary certificates. Imports of cosmetics, chemicals, toxic substances, insecticides, pesticides,
and agricultural chemicals require an import permit from the Costa Rican Ministry of Health. The
permit can be obtained with the presentation and approval of quantitative-qualitative analysis
certificates and free-sale certificates, which must be provided by the foreign exporter. For imports from
CAFTA-DR countries, Costa Rican importers must present to the Customs Authority the necessary
information that can certify the origin of the goods. There is no specific format to present this
information. The local importer can use any format available for this purpose. Violations of
documentation laws carry heavy fines. Consequently, great care must be taken to avoid errors and
Costa Rica protects selected agricultural commodities with tariffs that significantly exceed the 15
percent common external tariff ceiling. These protected commodities include dairy products (40 to 65
percent) and poultry products (150 percent). Most tariffs on agricultural products range from one
percent to 15 percent. CAFTA-DR eliminates tariffs on virtually all agricultural products within a
maximum of fifteen years (dairy and rice in 20 years, and chicken leg quarters in 17). The agreement is
currently in the seventh year. The agreement opens TRQs for fresh potatoes and onions; however the
tariff outside of the TRQ does not decline for these products. The agreement also requires transparency
and efficiency in administering customs procedures, including rules of origin. Costa Rica also
committed to ensure procedural certainty and fairness, and all parties have agreed to share information
to combat the illegal transshipment of goods.
Basic steps for exporting U.S. processed food products into Co sta Rica [see Fairs Country Report – CR]:
1. 1. Product must be registered with Ministry of Health or Ministry of Agriculture depending
on the product. Allow at least 30 days for registration process. The registration fee is $100 per product.
2. Obtain Certificate of Free Sale issued by:
a. a. For wines and liquor: Department of the Treasury Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade
b. For other agricultural products: State Departments of Agriculture or State Departments
of Health. For processed meat products, Costa Rica accepts FSIS Form 9060-5 “Export Certificate of
Wholesomeness” as equivalent to the Free Sale Certificate.
c. Certificate must obtain an Apostille from a Department of State.
3. Send documentation to the importer.
4. Importer submits documents to Ministry of Foreign Relations for translation into Spanish
5. Importer contacts Customs Agent.
a. The importer provides the Customs Agent with the following documents: commercial invoice, bill of
lading or airway bill depending on the transportation means to be used, and copy of the importer’s
identification document (passport, "cedula" or legal documentation in the case of a business entity.
b. Customs Agent determines the type of import permits which are required and asks them on behalf of the
importer (may include: country of origin, certificate of analysis, fisheries certificate, fumigation
certificate, health certificate, phytosanitary certificate, inspection certificate).
6. After receiving necessary permits, Customs Agent completes a Customs form to
submit to the Customs Office where the product will enter the country.
7. Product may be subject to a random sampling physical inspection procedure upon arrival.
7. Customs agent pays import duties.
8. The product is cleared for market and the importer may retrieve the product.
10. Product labels must be in Spanish and include: registration number given by Ministry, product name,
list of ingredients, net content and drained weight (in metric system), name and address of manufacturer
and importer, country of origin, lot ID, dating and preservation instructions, and instructions for use,
and any other information applicable to the specific product.
Other types of documentation:
Airway Bill – Air freight shipments require airway bills, which can never be made in
negotiable form. Airway bills are shipper-specific (i.e.) USPS, Fed-Ex, UPS, DHL, etc.)
Bill of Lading – A contract between owner of the goods and the carrier. Two types of
bills exist for vessels: a straight bill of lading (non-negotiable) and a shipper’s order bill
of lading (negotiable). The latter may be bought, sold, or traded while the goods are in
Commercial Invoice – A bill for the goods from the seller to the buyer. The invoices are
used by the government to assess the value of the goods and determine custom duties.
When using the invoices to control imports, governments specify the invoice form,
content, number of copies, language to be used, etc.
Consular Invoice – Describes the shipment of goods and provides information including
consigner, consignee and value of the shipment. Copies are available from the country’s
consulate in the U.S.
Export Packing List – May serve as a conforming document but is not a substitute for a
commercial invoice. Lists the seller, buyer, shipper, invoice number, date of shipment,
mode of transport, carrier, and itemizes quantity, description, the type of package, such
as a box, crate, drum, or canton, the quantity of packages, total net and gross weight (in
kilograms), package marks, and dimensions, if appropriate.
Electronic Export Information Form (Shipper Export Declaration) – Most common
document. Required for shipments above $2,500 and for shipments of any value
requiring an export license. SED has to be electronically filed via AES Direct (a free
service from Census and Customs) on-line system.
Generic Certificate of Origin – The Certificate of Origin is required by some countries
for all or only certain products. In many cases, a statement of origin printed on company
letterhead will suffice. The exporter should verify whether a CO is required with the
buyer and/or an experienced shipper/freight forwarder or the Trade Information Center.
Certificate of Origin for claiming benefits under Free Trade Agreements – Special
certificates may be required for countries with which the United States has free trade
agreements. Those required by the CAFTA-DR countries are the importer’s
Certificate of Analysis – Required for seeds, grain health foods, dietary supplements,
fruits and vegetables, and pharmaceutical products.
Certificate of Free Sales – Certificate of Free Sale are certificates (not pertaining to a
particular production lot or export consignment) that indicate that the particular
product(s) is marketed in the United States or eligible for export, and that the particular
manufacturer has no unresolved enforcement actions pending before or taken by FDA.
These certificates may be issued by FDA-CFSAN or by State governmental authority.
Fumigation Certificate – Provides evidence of the fumigation of exported goods (esp.
agricultural products, used clothing, etc.). This form assists in quarantine clearance of
any goods of plant or animal origin. The seller is to fumigate commodity at their
expense a maximum of fifteen (15) days prior to loading.
FSIS Form 9060-5 – also known as an “Export Certificate of Wholesomeness”, is
considered equivalent to the Certificate of Free Sale for processed meat products. Costa
Rican law dictates that this certificate accompany every exported shipment of processed
meat. This certificate in can be substituted in place of the certificate of free sale for
processed meat products.
Health Certificate – For shipment of live animals and animal products (processed
foodstuffs, poultry, meat, fish seafood, dairy products, eggs and egg products). Note:
Some countries require that health certificates be notarized or certified by a chamber and
legalized by a consulate. Health certificates are issued by the U.S. Department of
Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
Ingredients Certificate – The certificate may be issued by the manufacturer. If animal
fats are used, the certificate must state the type of fat used and that the product contains
no pork, artificial pork flavor, or pork fat. All foodstuffs are subject to analysis by
Ministry of Health laboratories to establish their fitness for use.
Inspection Certificate – Weight and Quality certificates should be provided in accordance
with governing USDA/GIPSA regulations for loading at port and loading at source/mill
site as appropriate. A certificate of origin certified by local chamber of commerce at load
port and a phytosanitary certificate issued by APHIS/USDA and fumigation certificate
are to be provided to buyer. Costs of all inspection, certificate/s documents at the load
port are usually the responsibility of the seller.
Phytosanitary Certificate – All shipments of fresh fruits and vegetables, seeds, nuts, flour,
rice, grains, lumber, plants, and plant materials require a federal phytosanitary certificate.
The certificate must verify that the product is free from specified epidemics and/or
agricultural diseases. Additional information and forms are available from APHIS.
Sanitary Import Permit (also known as the Preliminary Sanitary Authorization) - The
purpose of this certificate is to indicate any specific sanitary requirements that apply to
the imported product. These requirements have to be certified in the Export Certificate
of the country of origin by the exporting country authorities. This certificate is required
by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Export Certificate Matrix
Product(s) Title of Attestation Purpose Requesting
Certificate Required on Ministry
Dairy Sanitary Import Attestation varies Certificate indicates Ministry of
Products Permit depending on the specific requirements Agriculture
product, please see to be met by export
Section III for product.
Live Sanitary Import Same as above Same as above Ministry of
Animals Permit Agriculture
Beef Sanitary Import Ministry of
Pork Sanitary Import Ministry of
Poultry Sanitary Import Ministry of
Processed Sanitary Import The Free Sale Ministry of
Meats Permit Certificate is required Agriculture
Free Sale once for packaged Ministry of
Certificate meat products for Health
valid for 5 years.
Fish and Sanitary Import Ministry of
Crustaceans Permit Agriculture
Pet Food Sanitary Import Ministry of
Grains Phytosanitary Ministry of
Import Permit Agriculture
Fresh Fruits Phytosanitary Ministry of
and Import Permit Agriculture
Plants and Phytosanitary Ministry of
plant Import Permit Agriculture
Processed Certificate of Free Indicates that Required once for Ministry of
Food Sale or FSIS Form product is apt for Registration purposes. Health
Products 9060-5 (for human Registration valid for 5
processed meat consumption and is years.
products only). of free sale in
country of origin.
III. Market Sector Structure and Trends
A. Retail Food Sector
Supermarkets continue to be the best venues for imported products to reach Costa Rican consumers. It
is currently estimated that approximately 40 percent of food purchases within the country are made at
supermarkets. Convenience stores and “mini-supers” (also known locally as “pulperias”) - which are
small local stores offering a limited selection of basic goods, are also commonly frequented by Costa
Ricans, especially to supplement weekly purchases. Traditional markets, of which there are estimated to
be around 13,000 in the country, remain popular in Costa Rica as well.
Supermarkets have been gaining prominence in recent years and there are now over 350 [see Retail Food
Sector Report-CR] supermarkets in Costa Rica with this figure growing annually as supermarket chains
routinely open new stores. Urban areas contain the majority of supermarkets, but they are gaining
ground in rural settings as well. As retail supermarkets expand their reach and consumer base, they
present an excellent opportunity for increased exports of agricultural products and processed foods;
already 55 percent of food sold at supermarkets is estimated to be imported, with 32 percent of these
imports being from the U.S.]. Of supermarket retailers within the country there are five major
competitors based in a number of countries: Wal-Mart (United States), Gessa (Costa Rica),
AutoMercado (Costa Rica), Price Smart (United States), and Megasuper (Colombia). Wal-Mart alone,
by its own figures in 2011, owned more than 80 percent of supermarkets in Costa Rica [see: Retail Food
Middle to high-income clients are the target consumers of many supermarket chains, but price remains
an important factor in consumers purchasing decisions. Several budget and discount-oriented retail
outlets exist in Costa Rica. Due to increased competition between supermarket chains created from the
growing number and format of supermarkets, retailers strive to offer high-quality products, diversify
their product range, and offer in-store services. In particular this has resulted in the growth of prepared
foods sold in stores. This trend has coincided with a rise in demand for convenience foods, including
healthy convenient food options, which are now popular with consumers. High-end and budget
supermarkets and mini-supers alike are looking to target this niche.
Principal import and food distribution firms that can provide entry into retail outlets include Grupo
Constenla, S.A., Belca, Mayca, and Pedro Oller; these firms are the primary source of imports for
wholesalers, supermarkets, grocery stores and restaurants. Entry into smaller retailers is best
accomplished through working with local distributors.
B. Hotel, Restaurants and Institutions
A notable portion of Costa Rica’s GDP, 12.3 percent in 2011, could be attributed to travel and tourism
and this figure is forecast to rise 6.1 percent 2012. Costa Rica works hard to maintain its reputation as
an international vacation destination and attracts many international tourists, 2 million in 2011, as a
result [see: Hotel Restaurant & Food Service Report - CR].
Though tourists consume local foods, they have international tastes and often prefer foods and
beverages that are not available domestically. North Americans and Europeans in particular flock to
Costa Rica and bring with them a demand for international cuisines. Tourists’ food tastes are
responsible for a large segment of food and agricultural imports, with top imports in the HRI industry
being specific types of meat, alcohol, seafood, vegetables, and pastas. The large majority of tourism
within Costa Rica is aimed at coastal areas along the Pacific and Atlantic.
The Central Valley and the San Jose Metropolitan Area is home to the largest domestic consumption
base and majority of restaurants in the country. While no official data currently exists on the number of
restaurants in Costa Rica, their presence has been growing country-wide. Urban eateries show great
diversity in their offerings and it is no longer difficult to encounter cuisines from around the world in
San Jose. Consumers in San Jose are also readily familiar with many restaurant franchises from the
United States including Applebee’s, KFC, Quiznos, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, Burger King, Popeye’s, and
Starbucks among others. Many of these franchises are thriving and have plans to open new store
locations. Additionally, six new restaurant chains based in the United States are slated to open in the
capital in the upcoming year [source: La Nación CR Newspaper].
C. The Food Processing Sector
Bakery production accounts for the largest percentage of processing firms in the food industry.
Remaining non-bakery firms include such sectors as: milling, meat and meat-product processing, fruit
and vegetable processing, dairy goods, soft drinks and juice, confectionery and chocolate, fish and fish
products, and seafood processing.
Trade agreements with the United States, Mexico, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Central America,
Chile, and China have pushed Costa Rica’s processed food industry to improve its competitiveness.
The use of high-quality domestic and imported food inputs has advanced greatly, thus enhancing the
food processing sector. Costa Rica’s competitive industries include: coffee, sugar, dairy goods, and deli
meats. Recent strong growth has occurred for products such as fruit juice, salad dressing, palm oil,
tubers, corn, and potato chips.
IV. Best High-Value Products Prospects
Many promising export opportunities exist for high-value consumer products from the U.S. to Costa
Rica. The signing of CAFTA-DR in 2009 cleared the way for U.S. exports to enter Costa Rica with
ease, and since then U.S. exports have grown robustly. The economic outlook in Costa Rica is
promising as well; economic growth is steady and a solid base of middle to upper-class consumers is
expanding in the country. Additionally, U.S. food products and food companies continue to permeate
the market in Costa Rica as the Costa Rican public is both receptive and accustomed to U.S. food
products. American food companies, restaurants, and supermarket chains, have been highly successful
in Costa Rica and have a strong presence in the country.
Snack foods continue to gain popularity and exhibit positive consumption trends. In particular, bakery
and confectionary products are showing impressive levels of growth as are savory chips and snacks.
Competition in the snack food market is present from Mexico and Guatemala as well as from domestic
production. However, domestic production of snack foods, particularly of confectionary goods, also
presents opportunities for U.S. exporters of food ingredients. Baking inputs, shelled nuts, and
intermediate cocoa products have all experienced over 90 percent growth by value from 2010 to 2011.
Domestically produced snack foods are widely distributed throughout the country but are consumed
principally by middle to lower-income consumers. Imported snack foods in contrast, are targeted most
directly at higher-income customers, and while they too enjoy wide distribution throughout the country,
are found mainly in supermarkets and larger retail outlets.
Demand for healthy and/or gourmet snack items is increasing. Snacks with natural ingredients, dried
fruits, whole wheat, and high-quality ingredients are gaining ground with health conscious consumers.
This trend for healthy products is not limited to snack foods either; demand for niche food items such as
organic shelf products or gluten-free goods is expanding which bodes well for U.S. exporters wishing to
capitalize on this trend.
Meat exports to Costa Rica demonstrate excellent new opportunities for U.S. exporters as well. Pork
products stand out as having great export potential; bacon, ham, and pork leg (especially during the
winter months) are all popular imports at the moment. Exports of processed meats, prepared meats, and
preserved meats between 2010 and 2011 expanded significantly, and consumption of prepared meats
continues to grow. Further, the import registration requirements for processed meats have newly been
revised to reduce the number of forms required to bring these products into Costa Rica; these revisions
should facilitate future growth for U.S. exporters in this sector.
Exports of dairy products, notably cheese and yogurt, are growing quickly and present superb export
potential. Yogurt especially is gaining favor amongst Costa Rican consumers and imports of U.S.
yogurt are high; room exists in the market for new brands, including specialty varieties such as Greek
Remaining export sectors with impressive levels of growth include breakfast cereals, pet food and wine
and beer. Pet food exports to Costa Rica are expected to continue to grow. Many established U.S. pet
food importers are present in Costa Rica and consumers there are increasingly willing to spend more on
pet food products as income level in the country rises. Costa Rican pet food manufacturers also import
a high percentage of their ingredients directly from the U.S., representing yet another potential market
for U.S. entry. Wine and beer imports have also been making a splash in Costa Rica. The Costa Rican
public is particularly receptive to U.S. beers, which though a small percentage of the market, have
rapidly been gaining visibility it recent years. Costa Rican beer importers continue to seek high-value
high-quality U.S. beers for introduction to the public at large.
US Import Percent Average
Product rowth (by Percent
Cat Recommend Pr
egory (Thousands value) 2010- Growth (by
USD) 2011 value)
Processed B roth, tomato paste, tomato
Fruit & 30, 200
Ve products, potatoes, beans, 24.77 33.22 getables
peas, and lentils
Corn chips, confectionary
goods, microwave popcorn,
Snack Foods 23,306 33.60 15.81
baked sweet snacks, snack
nuts and seeds
Plums, peaches, apples,
Fresh Fruit 19,924 14.88 20.72
Consumer Soup, prepared ham,
Packaged sausage, pasta products, 15,826 43.00 127.25
Products prepared red meat
P et Foods Dry dog and cat food 10,499 43.19 15.98
Dairy Yogurt, cheese, milk
10,440 53.78 37.50
Products concentrate or sweetened
acon, ham, frozen beef 8,441 4.40 39.06
Tr nuts, mixed ee Nuts Almonds, wal 6,256 98.48 36.58
Breakfast Mixes and doughs, sugary
5,851 72.09 25.38
Wine and Beer, wine 2,058 40.77 30.26
V. Key Contacts
1. U.S. Embassy Commercial, Agricultural and Trade-Related Contacts
Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Services (FAS)
Phone : (506) 2519-2285
Fax: (506) 2519-2097
Website : www.fas.usda.gov
Mr. Steve Huete, Agricultural Counselor
Ms. Kelly Stange, Agricultural Attaché
Mr. Víctor González, Agricultural Specialist
Ms. Illeana Ramírez, Agricultural Marketing Assistant
Department of Commerce – U.S. Commercial Service
Phone: (506) 2220-2454
Fax: (506) 2231-4783
Website: www.export.gov www.buyusa.gov
Ms. Gabriela Lucke, Commercial Specialist
Mr. Victor Cambronero, Commercial Specialist
Mr. Roy Fernández, Commercial Specialist
U.S. Department of State – Economic Section
Fax: (506) 2519-2364
Mr. Roy Perrin, Counselor for Political and Economic Affairs
2. AMCHAM (Local American Chamber of Commerce)
Cámara Costarricense-Norteamericana de Comercio – AMCHAM (Costa Rican- American
Chamber of Commerce – AMCHAM)
Phone: (506) 2220-2200
Fax: (506) 2220-2300
Website : www.amcham.co.cr
3. Public Institutions
Ministerio de Salud (Ministry of Health) Dirección Atención al Cliente
Phone: (506) 2222-5749
Eng. Xinia Arias Quirós, Director Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería (Ministry of
Phone: (506) 2290-5463
Fax : (506) 2231-2062
Servicio Fitosanitario (Plant and Animal Health Services)
Phone: (506) 2260-8300
Servicio Nacional de Salud Animal (National Animal Health Service)
Phone: (506) 2260-8300
1. BICO Database
2.Banco Central de Costa Rica (Costa Rica Central Bank)
3. Country Comercial Guide (CCG) Costa Rica
4. Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos (National Institute of Statistics and Census)
5. CIA World Factbook
6. FAIRS Country Report, January 27, 2012
7. Retail Food Sector Report, May 1, 2012
8. World Tourism Council
9. Hotel, Restaurant and Food Service Report, March 22, 2012
11. La Nación, August 28, 2012
12. Global Trade Atlas (GTA) Database