The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is arguably the most magical thing in New Mexico. For residents, we get a sense of dread and fear of our morning commutes being disrupted by an off-course balloon landing in the road and delaying traffic, though that does give us a great excuse for why we were late to work that day (just pretend it happened and sleep in a little, we won’t tell). But that dread pales in comparison to the majesty of those burning beauties soaring across the skyline, silhouetted by the early morning sunlight and the wide open spaces they are free to pursue. To say that it is a part of our state’s core identity is an understatement, seeing as we hosted over 950,000 out-of-state visitors for the Fiesta in 2015.
Part of that #NMTrue core identity comes from the local magic that actually makes us unique. From our green chile on everything approach, to our unique and colorful art scene, to one of the greatest alternative weekly newspapers out there (totally unbiased opinion) and a food culture that thrives on local support, most people’s journey to New Mexico leaves a dramatic impression on them. This year though, a four-year tradition is breaking. New Mexico Piñon Coffee made the choice to not renew their sponsorship of the Balloon Fiesta, leaving the contract open, at which point Dunkin’ Donuts stepped in and up to the plate.
Here’s what we know: NMPC intentionally didn’t renew, the cost of the deal was not made public, Dunkin’ will be required to provide roughly 100,000 cups of coffee to volunteers, pilots, hospitality workers and public safety staff. Currently, at $2.09 per large cup of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, we come out to $209,000 of free coffee given out. Conversely, being the coffee on the field to visitors opens up a lot of avenues in terms of sales. With the figure of 950,000 visiting in 2015, safely assuming half of them will drink at least one cup of coffee while on the field, we land at $992,750 in sales. The long and short of it is, there’s profit to be made. At the time of publishing, we had reached out to NMPC for clarification on why they chose not to renew, but had not heard back from them by press time.
So what does all this math have to do with anything? It ties back to the core concept of what the Balloon Fiesta is: A bold, New Mexican tradition. It’s a gathering of folks from around the world to celebrate this weird concept in the heart of our state. With all the local flavor and wonder available, it just feels a little off to have a large corporate sponsor of coffee, when locally, we have so many amazing other roasters. There’s nothing wrong with DD or their coffee, which is palatable, albeit nothing game changing nor local. The magic is lost when the local touch is gone. We reached out to some folks in the community to get their feedback.
“I’m glad that Dunkin’ was able to step up when NMPC stepped down, and their local flavor will be missed. Coffee is such an important part of the fiesta considering the hours and the number of volunteers and first responders it takes to make the event run smoothly and safely. I just hope that the Balloon Fiesta looked into other local vendors before partnering with a national chain,” said local artist Meagan Swari. That’s the 505 attitude through and through. Silver lining on the stormy cloud, with the request to keep it local. #Respect
But not all are ready to accept our donut slingin’ overlords and their coffee just yet. Some prefer the local style. “It's super disappointing that NM Piñon Coffee stepped down and they were replaced by a national chain with vastly inferior coffee. Piñon coffee is really, really good,” said Barelas resident and stay-at-home mom Sarah Kaiman.
Will this change the Balloon Fiesta? Not dramatically. But it does open up the door for more corporatization as we continue down the road. Will the line be held here, or will more of the local specialties begin to get lost in the crowd as larger out-of-state markets step in? My fellow Burqueños, I ask you to hold this line. Keep this fiesta special, keep it in our backyard and keep it #NMTrue.