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Instructing the East's consumers.

Instructing the East's consumers

With Germany's Eduscho and Tschibo well to the fore, Europe's roasters are taking energetic steps to heat up coffee sales throughout the countries of the old Eastern bloc, and aiming to secure their full share of what could in time be a highly profitable new market. To a certain extent, they are pushing at an open door, because the old, pre-war coffee cultures remain a wistful memory in the minds of older East Europeans, and a totem of vigor and Western-style progressiveness for the young.

In the circumstances, the coffee companies for once find themselves in the happy and unaccustomed position of preaching to a new congregation that is panting to be converted. If all other things were equal, this could be regarded as a return to the golden age of the precious bean.

Unfortunately, all things are not equal. As we have reported in previous issues, coffee drinkers in the old command economies had learned to put up with some pretty basic blends of low-grade beans, but so long as the all-wise, all-powerful State dictated standards and disguised the price through a vast maze of barter purchases and local subsidies, they were thankful for small mercies. Now, they have demand economies, which they can't understand, and prices which they can't afford.

Experts in what was West Germany are predicting that it will take at least two years to smooth out the worst of the differences between West Germany's competitive economy and work ethic and the collective lethargy and fiscal incompetence of the East. Other, former communist-bloc states are likely to progress according to the speed with which they can unclamp the fingers of the old ruling class from the levers of power.

Happily, though, not everyone is sitting back and waiting for the other guy to make the running. There is, already, an idea brewing which could eventually result in an East European version of the trendsetting and highly effective promotion and education center set up by the Norwegian Coffee Committee which is now serving the Scandinavian market, under the wing of the International Coffee Organization.

The idea owes its origins to a glittering exhibition of coffee-related porcelain ware due to open in the spring of 1991. The event is - naturally - being staged by Meissen, one of the world's oldest and finest manufacturers of exquisite porcelain; the Meissen mark on any item guarantees not only its quality but also top-dollar price in antique salerooms or top-of-the-scale contemporary showrooms. The exhibition will include a number of items which have never before been on public display, from the biggest and finest collection in the world, and it will be held at the Meissen Center in the ancient (East) German city of Dresden.

The display will be complemented by an exhibition of coffee art, old prints and lithographs illustrating the commercial and social history of coffee collated by the fine arts and social culture historian, Ulla Heise of Leipzig. She become involved with the Eduscho collection being overseen by Michael Ropers of Bonn (part of which was seen at the Probat Exhibition in Emmerich) and the two began to discuss the possibility of a spin-off from the Dresden event, in the form of a new Coffee Center to serve the needs of the newest market.

Initially, it is felt, the venture could take the form of a coffee promotional center, using material drawn from the 300-year history of European coffee, but also featuring the American coffee experience. There would be room, too, for some of the great coffee advertising, including the Art Deco masterpieces from the 20's. Later, this could be expanded to include the educational function which the Oslo center fulfills, helping to train caterers and the general public in brewing techniques and technology.

Moreover, Heise and Ropers already have their eye on a possible base: an office suite in the venerable Romanushaus building in Leipzig, a city more attuned to Western commerce than most in East Europe, through its long-established role as a major exhibition center. There is only one practical impediment to this scheme, but it is a big one.

"The Stasi, the old secret police, still have offices in the building and so far nobody has been able to get them out," says Ulla Heise sadly.

If that small problem can be overcome, the plan would be for the new Center to serve not just the eastern German consumers but also those in Poland, the Baltic states, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and the Ukraine. In addition to the permanent exhibition, there would be regular exhibitions of work by artists from producer countries, and workshops for new coffee enterpreneurs, covering roasting technology, blending and brewing and - a skill so far not developed in the old eastern bloc - marketing methods. In time, the center could also be host to international coffee conventions.

But all this lies in the future, and in the meantime the great Meissen exhibition could well serve to spark public interest in the practical aspects of coffee, as well as in the china craftsman's skills. There are hopes that at least parts of the Dresden exhibition will later by taken to Salzburg or Vienna, and other European cities.

Coffee imports rise

5.2% in Germany

West German net coffee imports in July totaled 756,102 60 kg bags, up 5.2% from the 718,573 bags imported in June, and up 22% from 617,927 bags in July 1989, the West German Coffee Association said.

Colombia remained Germany's major coffee supplier in July, providing it wih 257,444 bags.
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Title Annotation:Eastern Europe
Author:Clark, Richard
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Nov 1, 1990
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