John C. Ickis
INCAE Business School Costa Rica
Hortifruti’s Tierra Fértil (Fertile Land) Program was created in Costa Rica by Enrique Uribe, founder of Corporación de Supermercados Unidos – Corporación de Compañías Agroindustriales (CSU-CCA), in 1973. As the number of supermarkets grew, Tierra Fértil raised its field operations’ standards and improved its farming practices, including the introduction of a planting schedule to ensure a steady supply. Other packing and transportation changes were introduced, such as the use of plastic to replace wooden crates.
In 1998, CSU started opening stores in Nicaragua. Unlike their Costa Rican counterparts, who largely grew vegetables, Nicaragua’s farming families specialized in corn and found it hard to switch to superior quality vegetable growing. This case describes the practices and techniques used by Tierra Fértil in these neighboring countries’ different settings, enabling students to draw their own conclusions about the program’s effectiveness in both Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
CSU had recently merged with a large supermarket chain in Guatemala to seize market leadership in Central America’s retailing, possibly partnering with a global industry player. Set in 2007, this case unfolds as the newly appointed Farming Head for Central America, Jorge Cordero, has to decide whether to recommend to CSU management to expand Tierra Fértil to the other Central American countries. As a result of greater distances, differing cultures, and safety issues, the challenges ahead would prove more difficult than those faced when the Program expanded to neighboring Nicaragua. Should he decide in favor of Tierra Fértil’s further expansion, Cordero should make a strong case before CSU management, the company’s Guatemalan partners, and the other parties in a potential global alliance.