Open Access

Constraints and sources of nonequilibrium: a case of radical market transformation in Brazil


Illycaffé entered Brazil in 1991 with the simple goal of finding high quality coffee and with a simple but revolutionary procurement strategy based on a) direct interaction with farmers and b) on an Award for the best coffee quality beans. The entry of Illycaffé unleashed a series of long-lasting consequences and unintended effects that revolutionised the Brazilian coffee industry and enabled the emergence of the quality coffee sector from the undifferentiated segment of commodity production. This paper analyses the ‘butterfly effect’ of the emergence of the quality coffee in Brazil in terms of complexity theory; and more specifically in terms of constraints and sources on nonequilibrium. I show how the entry of Illycaffé worked as an attractor (pull-strategy) that caused the decommoditisation of the coffee sector, enabled the emergence of a network of quality producers, and caused the rise of a ‘long tail’ of diversity.