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Colombia's Juan Valdez focused on return to Mexico, Argentina debut

Luis Jaime Acosta

BOGOTA, June 6 (Reuters) - Colombia coffee shop chain Juan Valdez will focus on expanding its presence in Latin America, including returning to Mexico and debuting in Argentina, before it looks further afield to Asia and Europe, the chain's president said.

Juan Valdez stores were founded in 2002 by the growers' federation in the world's top producer of washed arabica to sell premium Colombian coffee.

The chain has some 300 stores in Colombia and 131 in 13 other countries, including Ecuador, Chile, the United States, Spain and Panama.

"We're putting things in order internationally, strengthening the markets where we already are with an important focus on Latin America," Camila Escobar, the president of Procafecol, which owns Juan Valdez, said in an interview on Wednesday.

"In coming years we'll continue conquering the world in places like Asia and Europe, which have a very relevant participation in coffee."

The chain will return to Mexico this year, Escobar said, after closing its eight stores in the country in 2018. Its previous partnership model was unprofitable but the company is close to signing a deal with a new partner, she said.

Escobar would not say how many stores the chain plans to open in Mexico.

Juan Valdez stores will also make a 2019 debut in Argentina, she said, but entrance to Asia and European countries besides Spain could take about five years depending on finances.

The chain has about 30% of the coffee shop market in Colombia, where it competes with local chains Tostao and Oma and international heavyweight Starbucks Corp.

The chain has 100 own-brand coffee machines in offices around Colombia and hopes to expand that product to Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Panama in the coming months.

"We want to be there for the customer wherever the customer is," said Escobar, 37.

The chain buys coffee directly from Colombian farmers and contributes to a fund to help growers weathering low international prices.

Colombia has lost 40,000 hectares (99,000 acres) of coffee planting area over the last 18 months as desperate farmers leave the industry because of prices, the growers' federation has said.

Juan Valdez sells some 30,000 coffee drinks per day and employs 1,500 people in Colombia. (Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb Editing by Helen Murphy and Susan Thomas)