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An international espresso review.

My selfish hope is that progress' will not spoil one of my favorite coffee companies, Villarinho & Sobrinho. Why do I like Villarinho & Sobrinho? Foremost, perhaps, because it is one of Lisbon's roasteries-a city I admire. Then too, the company takes time and trouble over its production, and is proud of the result-this could sound like an idle slogan, but I suspect that V&S would rather close than cheat. Is Villarinho & Sobrinho an old fashioned company? No, 'traditional' is the term for V&S--and thank goodness there are some roasters like it left.

V&S is located in the very midst of Lisbon, on a narrow old street chronically choked with traffic. One staggers in from the magnificent chaos of Lisbon to find a bustling activity in V&S itself. No one's sitting down for long. Looming above, filling almost every free space of all, are the staring eyes and horns of a remarkably large collection of stuffed game--the hunting trophies of Manuel Villarinho, chairman of his family's company.

As a coffee company, Villarinho & Sobrinho is about 50 years old and has acquired a good name for coffee in Lisbon under the brand name 'Chave d'Ouro.' These coffees are all espresso style, and yield a classic creamy head when served correctly. The company sells 1,000 tons of coffee per year, and sales are now limited by production capacity. These are coffees for Lisbon bars and cafes. They are not gourmet coffees, but the best of them are quite good.

The daily management of V&S is handled by Francisco Ferreira, the firm's industrial director. Ferreira explains that they are buying green coffees principally from Zaire, Togo, Cameroun and Brazil (the Robustas); and from Ecuador, Honduras, Guatemala, Peru (the Arabicas). The company does continue offering a mixture of barley or chicory with coffee, but discourages it and has let sales dwindle to nothing, a fact that by itself elevates V&S above the common roastery in Portugal. Instead, the company's goal is to help seduce Lisbon coffee drinkers to a better quality of coffees and then serve the top end of this market.

Ferreira sees his espresso market in an evolutionary process, with a few companies like V&S leading the way. As an indication, the Chave d'Ouro blends are moving steadily toward finer Robustas and more Arabica content. The top quality blend is two-thirds Arabica, which is likely as high as any Arabica content to be found in Portugal, where Robusta rightfully wins in terms of price, taste and loyalty to the espresso 'cream.'

V&S does it the old way-roasting a day's production to order, packing it in kilo bags (also some 500, 250 and 125 gm bags), then delivering it fresh to the bars where it is consumed in short order. The production is whole bean, and no vacuum is used. Ferreira asks a good question, why would they need valve packaging when their clients are already getting the freshest possible coffee? The scale of activity and the system itself demand alternatives in a coffee business like his. These coffees are roasted per origin, a full 20-minute roast, and then blended by hand in time-honored wooden blenders.

Although Portugal is not yet a market for decaffeinated coffee, V&S offers two brands-the only company in Portugal with two decafs on its roster. The company buys green decaffeinated coffee in Germany for processing/packing in Lisbon. Single service vacuum packed sachets of decaffeinated coffees are also imported from Verwerkaf in Italy.

To escape from the crowded street outside, and the limited space and production capability, Villarinho & Sobrinho will be moving in the near future to a new plant now being planned. The move is dictated in part by a growing interest from abroad in V&S espresso, some of which is already being exported to Germany and Switzerland. There also seem to be prospective markets for the coffee in Eastern Europe. All in all, the company is hardly a secret. And I should not be selfish.

Part II: News Of Espresso

Lavazza's worldwide report card

The vigor of espresso is clearly reflected in the healthy glow to be seen at the giant of espresso coffee roasting: the Lavazza company. The year 1990 was obviously one of adjustment for the company following a spate of acquisitions in 1989 which served to strengthen its dominance of the Italian coffee market.

Lavazza reports sales of more than 67,000 tons of roasted coffee in 1990, up from 65,000 tons in 1989. Its green coffee acquisitions rose to 1.5 million bags for the period, from 1.4 million bags bought in 1989. Turnover rose to 675 billion lire, a climb of more than 7% from the year-earlier figure of 630 billion lire.

The most interesting figure provided by the company, however, is that of the 1990 value of its product sales on foreign markets. This mushroomed by more than 75%, from 51 billion lire in the 1989 period to 90 billion lire last year. Foreign sales thus represented better than 13% of turnover in 1990, versus a share of 8% in the earlier period.

Analysis: Lavazza is now so dominant in Italy (at 50% of the sum coffee market) that its Italian sales necessarily begin to reflect a fairly sluggish coffee market. Rapid-fire growth such as the company has thrived on for the past two decades will need to come from foreign markets, where the Lavazza name is increasingly the torch bearer for sales of Italian espresso. While the 80's saw the company's march through the peninsula, the 90's will survey its progress in a united European market--which will not be easy--and its continuing effort to tame the wild U.S. espresso market. In its favor: despite its size the company is impressively nimble; it keeps a firm hand on its product line; it has absolute confidence in the future of espresso.

Cimbali backs outreach in France

There can be no doubt that Cimbali reaps a commercial return from its zealous support of international programs to improve the quality of coffee and coffee service. But cynicism is a losing mentality, and that we don't need in coffee: what we do need desperately is better coffee in the cup, in clean cups, served pleasantly and with reassuring uniformity of standards. Therefore, Brava Cimbali!'

Italy's largest manufacturer of professional espresso machines is also one of the leading exponents of higher education for HORECA (food service) service and the coffee industry itself, around the world. Their point being that they see a relationship between coffee as a sensual success, the growth of coffee consumption and that of their own business-further, that if someone is served a cup from one of their models, they'd rather it was a pleasure. For Cimbali, this goes further than lip service.

For example, in France now (a country long targeted for better coffee) the company has partnered with the Coffee Center in Paris to create regional Coffee Information and Study Centers. These were inaugurated in March and are located at leading provincial hotel schools in Toulouse, Strasbourg and Calais areas. The centers offer a full roster of seminars and informative services to bar/restaurant professionals and to coffee industry personnel. The emphasis is fully on coffee in general-history, cultural importance, physical properties, etc.--as well as on how to provide coffee drinkers with a first class cup of espresso. Seminar programs vary, but they do focus on the practical concerns and typical information gaps of coffee professionals, whether roaster, retailer or barman.

Lest we forget, France remains for now at least the second largest market for espresso coffees and machines in the world.

That Italian Year That Was

There are espresso coffee brands being made in every major coffee drinking nation--some are not worthy of the name, others are excellent. Espresso does not belong to Italy, anymore than does Opera.

However, try convincing an Italian roaster of this! Italy may not be the only nation to make espresso machines or to blend and roast a coffee that can give full flavor and body to the espresso concept, nevertheless no one else has been doing it for so long or with such success or in such grand volumes. Not all the coffee roasted in Italy is for espresso style service, but the large majority of it is.

This makes Italian coffee facts and figures of special interest to international espresso-watchers. The following are kindly provided by Dr. Mignone, director of the Italian Coffee Committee in Rome. (TABULAR DATA OMITTED)

L'Espresso' in Dutch test market; more good news for Illy

Illycaffe continues to be the anomaly, the carriage trade coffee roaster and espresso machine marketer, with standards that might be termed snobbish, that still manages to enjoy a booming record of sales that begin to resemble bargain day at Macy's.

Actually, the ever-more affluent Italians themselves are causing a 'run' on Illycaffee--a company that has achieved most of its growth abroad in the past two decades. In 1990, Illycaffe saw its Italian bar sector sales increase by 160/o, bringing the company into second place internationally-behind Lavazza and now ahead of Segafredo Zanetti. In its Italian 'home' sector sales, the company realized a growth of 75% over those of 1989. Turnover improved by 20%.

All of this action in Italy has of course pressed the company's production capabilities, and means that exports now account for 25% of turnover, versus 300/o in 1989. But developments have been brisk and positive on international markets, led perhaps by the success of the Illy-Krupps L'Espresso' system in test market this past summer in Netherlands and Italy (the machine uses patented Illy coffee pods, and has already been successful on the U.S. market, but is not yet readily available in Europe).

To ease the crunch on production, the Illycaffe plant in Trieste has seen extensive work-in-progress, most notably a big new roasting system from Officine Vittoria that increases roast capability by 3 3 while still being true to the company's doctrine of slow roasting. As well, the plant has achieved on-line computer control of the entire production process and extended pod production with two more podding units.

European Unity in Genoa

If one wished to view an auditorium filled with espresso coffee producers, one need go to Genoa this past March. ASSOCAF, Genoa's coffee association and one of the two most powerful coffee associations in Italy, sponsored a two-day symposium on "Italian Coffee and the United European Market."

True, this event served to promote the interests of Genoa as a European coffee center, but it also gave concrete expression--and for the first time in my experience--to the very complex and critical questions that the European coffee industry ought to be facing up to as 1993 approaches with its brave new age of a single European market. The symposium brought to the stage a panel of expert voices on problems with coffee regulation in Rome and Brussels, on taxation, banking, product standardization, etc.

What seemed most impressive about this Genoa meeting, from a foreigner's viewpoint at least, was that it gave clear evidence of how sophisticated the Italian industry has become, and how determined to nurture and guard its exports of espresso products.

Faema on U.S.A.' "Fantastic!"

Currently, the people at Faema are bullish on the U.S. espresso market as never before. They have cause to be. Recent years have seen a continuing surge in sales of the company's espresso making machines, to the point where the U.S. is now this worldwide marketer's number three export market. According to Dr. Assaad Benabid, Faema export manager, U.S. sales rank not far behind those for France and Spain, and are surely soon to become the leading market for the company's range of professional machines outside of Italy itself.

"We've grown to hold a 25% share of the professional market in the U.S.," reports Benabid, who is also vice president and manager of Faema Corp. of America, the company's subsidiary based in Stamford, Conn. "We have the network now in place to offer service and support nationwide. I think we're the only Italian espresso machine manufacturer with a U.S. subsidiary and a nationwide network of distributors-we have more than 20, who in turn work with sub-distributors, etc."

New York, Seattle and San Francisco are the leading U.S. markets for Faema-there are more than 300 machines working in Seattle alone. But Benabid stresses that growth in espresso has become a nationwide phenomenon and no longer fits the classic big-city pattern.

Adding fuel to the stress on exports is the newest member of Faema senior management, sales director Friedrich Berenbruch. Berenbruch's offices are at headquarters in Milan. Berenbruch represents the participatory interests of the Ali Group in Faema-the Ali Group is one of the world leaders in the food-service industry.

Spain leads in Kimbo Export Growth

Word of warning, never try flying from Naples to Milan with a case of Kimbo coffee under your arm! First the taxi driver in Naples demanded three cans, then settled for one can at the airport-"for my wife, that's all she wants. " Next, at the airport two ladies asked if I was selling the coffee as they most certainly would buy it all. Next the airplane hostess--then the baggage handler at Milan airport--finally an innkeeper near Venice, "I come from Napoli, that makes me homesick" (this gentleman received two cans).

Actually, all of these people can probably buy Kimbo at local hypermarkets, as the brand is now number two in sales for Italy's in-home market. But in Italy day-to-day business is also a matter of the heart, and clearly Kimbo has a place in the heart for many, which may help explain why sales for the coffee jumped by 20% during 1990.

Kimbo is made by Cafes do Brasil, in Naples. To support the popularity of the brand, the company has been launching new Kimbo products as fast as possible. In recent months these have included Kimbo Arabica (100% Arabica, ground, 250 gms tin); Kimbo Espresso Napoletano (espresso blend, ground, 250 gms vacuum brick pack); Kimbo Duetto (twin packs, 250 gms bricks); Kimbo 2 + 2 (four packs, 250 gms bricks); Kimbo Flavor & Aroma (export packages, 250 gms).

Kimbo export markets are reportedly gaining quickly, even though they are a relatively recent focus for Cafes do Brasil. Gains in Spain have been particularly encouraging, especially for the company's Detox label of decaffeinated coffee. The company also reports strong results for the bar blends in Canada, and for the French and U.K. markets (where agreements have now been signed with major distributors). Given this record, perhaps I'll one day warn people not to try flying with a case of Kimbo from Vancouver to Montreal.

Part 3: Close-Up on Brasilia

Not far from the ancient university town of Pavia, on the plains of Lombardy, are the headquarters of Brasilia-almost new headquarters that have already been outgrown. Brasilia, among other things, is a statement of its own on the incredible pace of growth in Italian espresso machine markets worldwide. This company was founded only a decade ago, but has expanded so rapidly that the production and sales of espresso machines amounted in 1990 to about 19,000 units-9,000 professional machines, 10,000 semiprofessional machines (the company veers clear of the term "family style" because despite their size, these small units are quite legitimate espresso machines).

Actually, although the company ranks among the youngest of the Italian firms active in espresso machine manufacturing and marketing, its roots are deep in coffee. Company-founded Giampiero Rossi hails from a family whose business was (is) the supply of machine components for espresso machines and grinders. Rossi was only 24 years old when he created Brasilia but he did it in style, recruiting some well known espresso talents to help him.

These days, more than 80% of Brasilia production is exported, meaning that the company necessarily ranks among the leaders in volume of Italian espresso machine exports. Currently, France is one of the biggest markets for Brasilia machines, and hosts the company's first sales subsidiary, opened in 1989 as 'Brasilia Europe' and owned 75% by the mother company. Brasilia has distributor representation in its other markets, which in order of importance are the U.K. (1 million [british pound] in annual sales), Germany (1.2 million DM in annual sales) and Portugal (3 billion lira in yearly sales). These key markets are followed by Spain, Netherlands, U.S.A. and Eastern Europe. In Eastern Europe, Bulgaria in particular is a star market for Brasilia machines (the company is market leader there).

Brasilia Group manager is Roberto Contardi, a man trying to ease the company's growing pains, nurturing the plans to double factory floor size by next year, fretting over the demands of expansion-production of Brasilia professional machines has increased about 10% so far this year.

"We have a total work force of only 65," explains Contardi, " But we make 150 different models! " Actually, the company's professional line has been purposely restrained to three basic machine types: Century, 85' and Mythos, and two of these-top of the line Century and the less expensive Mythos-were premiered in 1990. Contardi is proud of both new models, and notes that Mythos is up now for a design award. "We spent a million dollars just to tool up the prototypes for these models; don't mention R&D costs to me. You drink a nice cup of espresso and never even consider the serious investments behind every sip. "

Century, among other features, boasts electronic dosage, micro-processor control, push button ease, etc. The humbler Mythos still sports an electronic dosing device, steel casing, copper boiler, and the other fittings that are to be expected in Italian espresso machines of class.

In addition to the professional full-size line, Brasilia markets a compact America' series that is also of bar standards, featuring built-in dosing. One version here offers an espresso and filter coffee combination. There are semi and fully automatic units. Then too there is the line of semi-professional models-Lady and Club--and most certainly the gambit of grinders too.

Brasilia also markets such specialties as a Belle Epoque model and, most recently, paper filter pods of espresso coffee, machine-ready, vacuum packed. This latter is the Brasilia Kiss' espresso in a filter, a roasted ground coffee of Italian blend styling that the firm has made to fit its entire range of espresso systems (this is part of a joint venture with Autex in the Holland).

Finally, Contardi will insist on showing a visitor how the dosing head on the semi-professional unit is the same as the heavy-duty version used for the professional machines. "That's quality!" he remarks. Quality keeps you in this market; it answers the espresso market demand. There's always that about the coffee industry."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:May 1, 1991
Previous Article:Back to school for British tea-drinkers.
Next Article:If you're bullish on coffee: come to Spain in '92.

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