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Fabled French region inspires fresh concepts in specialty products.

At first glance, the Provence region of southern France might appear as a gold coast for specialty coffees and teas - the lifestyle, the seeming abundance of wealth and of fashionable people, such aspects often mean a strong market in sophisticated food and beverage products. But in reality, while rich in its perfect climate and beautiful landscapes, this world famous region that stretches from Nimes to Nice and from the coast to the foothills of the Alps has been something of a golden cage to the local quality-oriented enterprises that have sprung up over time to quench its thirst in teas and coffees. Yes there does exist a market for fine coffee and tea, to serve an entire coastline of grand hotels, star studded restaurants, and private estates. But it is a highly restricted market, both in size and location. Beneath the lovely exterior of Provence, one finds a densely populated region without much economic depth and this stunts the specialty sector.

Therefore, while the famed taste for the good life on the Cote d'Azur has surely been an inspiration for the expertise of such roasting companies as Malongo and Turfait, to cite but two, and for the admired work of the local espresso machine manufacturers - Unic and Conti - it has not necessarily ensured the kind of return to pay for expansion. In such circumstances, to profit from excellence one must be nimble and ingenious; qualities which have certainly meant survival for the above mentioned companies.

Exemplifying this, Malongo has risen to the fore in French gourmet coffee retailing with a line of eight single origin and blend coffees - including such titles as a Colombia Supremo, Ethiopia Sidamo, and Jamaica Blue Mountain. The line is packaged in tins, a particularly unusual feature in France - and not just any ordinary tin, but in a concept that has won the packaging industry's Oscar and Worldstar awards and that makes one stop and stare. Malongo has been actively cultivating shelf space in supermarkets for its upscale products and evolving an in-store boutique concept, most notably in Galeries Lafayette in Paris. Setting the general tone for its style of product and presentation, the company - which is owned by the Rombouts company of Belgium - also sponsored the France-Inter (national radio) coverage of the most recent Cannes Film Festival.

Matching this vigor, the Unic line of espresso machines becomes increasingly more visible throughout France and in international markets, an indication of how engineering and workmanship, even in a price-conscious market, still count when it comes to buying bar equipment.

As for the particular genius in coffee and tea sales of Turfait & Cie, this is daily on display in the central commercial districts of several French cities, in the stores that bear the company's "Les Rois Mages" trademark. Most of these stores are located in the Provence Cote d'Azur region, but not all, and the company increasingly looks to national and international markets for developing its concepts in specialty stores and products

One of the most charming of human habitations, Aix-en-Provence, is home to the Turfait company. The firm's roasting plant is in an industrial park outside Aix, while two flagship stores are located in ancient precincts of the town itself. The store I visited sold coffee, tea, and a variety of complimentary products over the counter while also serving tea, coffee, and chocolate drinks at indoor and sidewalk tables. To this writer, it would be hard finding a more attractive selling venue - the atmosphere is kept quite unpretentious, a simple boulevard-cafe styling, with an exterior painted in friendly Provencal pastels offsetting an interior of darker wood and brass tones - no bright lights and no plastic.

The handsome display silos for the roasted coffee beans (custom built by Turfait) and the elegant lines of tea canisters are most prominent, but the side walls offer a fascinating and extensive array of condiments and service items. Straight back in full view and accessible to the clientele is the roasting machine - a 10-kilo batch unit built by the French company Sasa-Samiac. The coffee part of Les Rois Mages business is based solidly on the concept of daily in-store roasting, which, when displayed like this, is about the best marketing tool coffee can have.

The store offers a menu with 20 coffees, in house blends, single origins, and decaffeinated. The staff will grind coffee to order, via a Ditting model, or serve a cup as desired, espresso style, from a Unic espresso machine. The store stocks about 55 varieties of tea.

According to Marc Himbaut, the commercial director of Turfait, the Les Rois Mages store in question averages about 1,800 buying customers per week, with 70% in counter sales, and 30% in table service. Regarding counter sales, coffees account for 85%, teas for 10%, and the remainder is in condiments and accessory products. The store is now grinding 80% of the counter trade coffee. Regarding tea, it should be noted that Provence is hardly known for the volume or style of its consumption, making the commitment by Turfait to superior garden teas in bulk all the more rare.

Currently there are 20 stores with the Les Rois Mages emblem, half owned by Turfait, half owned by others under franchise agreements. Store style and the range and quality of products offered are kept under strict control by the company, but due to size limitations, not all stores serve coffee and tea. Himbaut stresses, however, that the combination of counter and table service remain the ideal, and very much at the heart of the Les Rois Mages concept. In addition to the stores in Aix, Les Rois Mages stores are to be found in the Provencal towns of Marseille, Nimes, Arles, Aubagne, Salon, Cavaillon, and Manosque. Outside of the region, stores are located in Montpellier; Beziers, Bordeaux, and Chartres.

The rigorously maintained standards in coffee and tea, the Turfait company's strictness in quality control, the emphasis on fresh roasted coffees and rare teas - these attributes have proven formidable in allocating franchises for the specialty stores. In addition, the first tenets in gaining a Les Rois Mages franchise are further restrictive, the town must have a population of not less than 30,000, there should be no other specialty coffee and tea store in the community, and the stores must be located in the town's center with the stress on visibility and access. The last point is perhaps the most important; location theory pertains to specialty coffee and tea stores as well as to McDonalds.

Granted, the Les Rois Mages stores have proven successful, once the difficulties in location, training, and quality control are dealt with. However, in order to build momentum in expansion while holding standards high, the company is now promoting a new concept in franchising that it terms the "Les Rois Mages kiosk." This prefabricated, complete sales and service unit for commercializing specialty coffees and teas is designed for use in high density, traffic situations such as inside large department stores and malls or too in unconventional locations like harbor fronts, sports complexes, and airports. The kiosk, in effect, bridges the gap between the cart concept and the full-service store.

The standard Les Rois Mages kiosk is designed as a sales/service island in a rectangular layout of 20-sq meters, with wrap around counter access. Two side counters are designated for sales, two for service. The kiosk can be operated with a staff of two and would come fully equipped down to the espresso machines - either by Unic or Faema. The unit would not feature on-site roasting, but some type of simple food service is most certainly an option.

As opposed to in-store sales, kiosk sales are figured to be based by about 70% on cup service. Turfait is selling the kiosks outright, internationally, and at relatively reasonable prices, while maintaining a guaranteed supply contract for the tea and coffee and a commission on sales.

Beyond realizing its own concepts in retailing and franchising, the Turfait company is also pioneering in a range of new specialty products and market niches. It is, for example, the market leader in France in supplying extremely fine green coffee to the health food segment (green-coffee drin- king, working as a diaeretic, has become fashionable among a rather extensive group of form-conscious French ladies). Turfait is also market leader in organic coffees - the firm holds about 70% of the entire organic segment in France, all of which is in private label, and all of which conforms to international and national "organic" guidelines.

As well, Turfait has most recently launched a line of flavored coffees, which remain a bold concept in France as elsewhere in Europe. Flavors include vanilla, chocolate, almond, and orange.

The emphasis on specialty stores and specialty coffees and teas increasingly rivals the company's more traditional activities, as a supplier to the regional home and out-of-home coffee markets where Turfait is busy both with its own labels (Les Rois Mages) and too with store brands. Turfait packages about a dozen store brand labels and also supplies coffees to mail-order houses. The company places its own-label coffee, tea, chocolate powder, and condiments on the shelves of more than 500 specialty food stores, pastry, and wine shops in the Provence/Cote d'Azur area. Moreover, there are about 1,200 cafes, restaurants, and hotels in the region serving coffee and tea from Turfait, and among them some of the most prestigious names on the Riviera.

In the out of home sector, Turfait is a complete source for just about everything that can compliment the serving of a tea or coffee, from sugar and chocolate to cookies and honey. An important specialty is the espresso machine. The company is a distributor for Unic and Faema espresso machines, for Ditting grinders, and also offers a wide selection of rebuilt professional bar equipment.

Managing these various activities are the brothers Raymond and Pierre Turfait, along with Raymond's son in law, Marc Himbaut. As varied as their business has become, with an inventory list of approximately 2,000 entries, these men will quickly let you know that Turfait company roots still turn deeply in and are inseparable from the rich soil of fine teas and coffees sourced at origin. The truth of this passion is in the cup they serve, which ranks among the best France has to offer.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:specialty coffees roasting, retail and equipment industries in Provence
Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jun 1, 1993
Previous Article:The breakfast table battle: they may wake France up in the morning, but coffee and tea have sleepy retail sales.
Next Article:Fine French tea must not be locked in a golden ghetto.

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