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Espresso machine review: the French alternative.

The espresso cup of coffee, "the espresso"-- these become as international as the word 'cafe' itself. While Italian roasting companies and Italian coffee making machine manufacturers may justly feel possessive of the international espresso marketplace, and they do dominate it, they must also share it. For some time, local espresso roasting and machine manufacturing sectors have existed in countries like Switzerland, France, Spain and the U.S. These industries have succeeded by giving individual attention and full service to their respective national markets. Some of the companies involved have emerged as competitors for the international espresso market.

As an espresso market second only to Italy in consumption, it is hardly surprising that France in particular should have its own vigorous espresso coffee roasting and machine manufacturing industries. As a nation of free thinking engineers, it is also true that France often offers technological alternatives, from airplanes to television systems, from cars to espresso making machines. We thereby come to the fact that France's espresso machine manufacturing sector includes four companies of more than sufficient size to operate on the international market and, which are known for their strength and independence in engineering. These are Grouard, Reneka, Sacome and Unic.

Grouard is located in the Paris region. It is a 130-year old company now part of Cidelcem Industries. While offering a wide range of coffee making machines--for professional bar use, for fast foodservice, catering hotel and business (in espresso style, urn and filter units)--the company has most recently launched a totally automatic, high volume, espresso line, the Spirit of Grouard (see June 1992, Tea & Coffee). The level of technical virtuosity in "Spirit" is proof enough that France fields a formidable team in espresso wizardry.

For its part, the Reneka company is clearly braced for an important period of expansion. The company has just relocated to a new and larger manufacturing site, expanding capacity by 50%. Reneka is based in the Strasbourg area, and perhaps its proximity there to the EC Parliament helps explain its tradition of international activity. Also, since 1989, Reneka has been part of the Melitta Group, a name in coffee that needs no introduction or passport

The Reneka range is espresso-dedicated and for professional bar use. The line extends from a user-friendly single head unit up to big bar units. Reneka models can be either semi or fully automatic.

Although holding about 15% of the French espresso-bar machine market, Reneka exports more than 50% of its production. This is particularly remarkable in that the company began export activities only as recently as 1985. Reneka is present throughout Europe, but has been achieving impressive growth overseas. This year, Reneka has shipped 1,200 professional units to the U.S., which means that in volume, U.S. sales are now not that far behind what the company does in France. The exclusive importer for Reneka in the U.S. is Boyd Coffee Co. of Oregon. Another exciting market for Reneka machines is Japan. While Reneka has only been present on that market for three years, sales are rising briskly. The exclusive Japanese importer is the Kalita company of Tokyo.

As of January 1, 1993, the export manager of Reneka, Jeannot Henninger, who is based m France, will also be responsible for the worldwide sale of Cafina Inc. espresso machines. The Cafina company is a sister company within the Melitta Group. It is based in Switzerland and specializes in producing fully automatic espresso machines.

Likely as not, no espresso machine company has a more impressive location than Sacome--for that matter, few companies of any sort could compete. Sacome is based on the Monte Carlo waterfront. Yes, technically this would make Sacome a "Monocoan" rather than French company. But as any Parisian will tell you, being French is also a state of mind and this extends to tiny Monaco (although the Italians here might claim the same, with some justice).

Actually, the location is so stunning that at first it could be difficult to take Sacome seriously--this is immediately dispelled on stepping into the factory area where the visitor is met with one of the most impressive arrays of high-tech tooling systems to be found in the coffee industry. Sacome exists as a very s source for espresso machines and components, much of which appears under various trademarks.

The company's own brand is Conti, a name familiar throughout France but not well-known abroad. The small units are the PrestoMatic, offering semi automatic one or two cup service from a single serving head, backed by electronic dosing, and the ToutAuto, which as its name implies is a small fully automatic pushbutton espresso unit. The professional bar series--Catronic--comes in units of one, two, three and four serving heads.

These Conti machines are very nicely styled, but the Catronic series is a particularly striking standout. The line extends to the MK 6, MK 8, MK 10 and MK 12 models; each offering a higher step in service and electronic capability.

The Uniqueness of Unic

The esteem in which Unic machines are held is reflected in its client list. The list in France runs to more than 30,000 locations, but a handful of the more stellar would include the Hotels Ritz and Plaza Athenee in Paris, the Louvre Pyramide, the airports of Nice, Lyon, Bordeaux, Toulouse, the train station buffets at the Gare de Lyon in Paris, the Casino and Marest chain of cafeterias, IBM France, and so forth.

Unic has been in exports for less than a decade, but they now account for about 20% of sales--foreign clients include the Sibu Season Group in Japan, Hyatt Regency USA, Metropolitan hotels in the UK, GB Inno in Belgium and the Shangri-La Hotels. In New York, Unic machines are filling espresso cups at Windows On The World, Le Cirque and the Marriot Marquis Hotel.

As might be guessed from these kinds of fists, Unic places itself in the top to middle range of the espresso machine market, and can evidently well compete for the most demanding clientele as well as for those with the highest coffee traffic. Unic bases this sophistication on more than 70 years of experience in the manufacture and design of connoisseur-class coffee making equipment This is an experience that has won the company numerous awards through time and including most recently the coveted APRIA award in 1989 for the patented Dosamat innovation, an avant garde technology offering precision dosing (for a quality cup) in high volume espresso production.

The Dosamat concept was particularly important for Unic because it emphasized the company's expertise in, and mastery of, the injection-type espresso machine. The company's reputation has been built on its achievements with the hydraulic-type espresso machine

The Dosamat series is promoted as a high speed electronic marvel that can be programmed for up to six doses per serving head, it is offered in two, three and four serving group units. On a less sophisticated level are the models of the ID and Diva series, again designed on injection technology. The Diva is a compact, single group unit that has found a market niche in Japan and the U.S.

In sum, Unic produces a line of 30 models, for bar, office and self-service use, Injection and hydraulic based. About 60% of its production remains in hydraulics, and the company is in fact the only manufacturer to have developed fully electronic hydraulic lines. These unique hydraulic machine families, the SD and IHD, have the same sophistication in digital control as associated with the more common injection-type makers. Much of France has historically been a hydraulic espresso-machine market, which explains Unic's continued dedication to the technology. Hydraulic machines are also common in Spain and Portugal.

As well known as Unic is in many circles for its professional espresso machines, it still surprizes some clients that the company also deserves credit as a pioneer in fully automatic machines, which it has been producing to increasingly higher standards since 1967.

Unic is based in Nice, and remains a family-owned and managed company.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Title Annotation:espresso coffee making equipment manufacturers Grouard, Reneka Industries S.A., Sacome S.A. and Unic S.A.; includes related information on companies
Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Nov 1, 1992
Previous Article:Riding Lavazza's espresso express.
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