Juan Valdez was 'born' back in 1959 at the Doyle Dane Bernback ad agency. The National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia needed a new ad campaign and wanted a character to represent the thousands of coffee farmers that are the heart of the industry. The campaign was so successful, that in 1981 the image of Juan was incorporated into the Federation logo.
He was first played by Jose Duval, but the role was taken over by Carlos Sanchez in 1969. Sanchez has played the part ever since. Even with the busy schedule that his fame requires, Sanchez still has time to manage his own small coffee farm and run an artistic silkscreening business. Sanchez has travelled all over the world as Juan, promoting Colombian coffee.
Over the years, we've seen Juan hand-picking coffee cherries to show the world that Colombian coffee is harvested manually by real people. The campaigns have changed their focus over time. Once people had learned of the high-quality of Colombian coffee, the ads switched to show people where to find Colombian coffee, since it is an origin location not a brand. New ads were developed with Mr. Valdez and his donkey walking around the aisles of your local supermarket.
The National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia is an organization made up of individual coffee farmers (cafeteros). There are currently over a half million members of the Federation. By banding together, the coffee farmers have the power and influence of a large corporation. This all leads to better pay for their coffee and fairer treatment on the world market.
What's next for Juan? Who knows, but I'm sure he'll be "Grabbing Life by the Beans!" Actually, he has his own website now: Friends of Juan, a fun site dedicated to Colombian coffee.