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Italy: beautiful places, rich in treasure.

An Espresso Machine Marriage

Recently in a hotel in the magnificent Portonovo area on Italy's Adriatic shore, a special party took place. This was the annual gathering of the management, sales force and agents of Nuova Simonelli, one of Italy's leading espresso machine manufacturers. The event this year was serious going, with educational presentations on everything from market trends to the presentation of Victoria Arduino, one of the oldest and most revered names in Italian espresso machines, which was recently acquired by Nuova Simonelli. In a sense, this party was something of a wedding ceremony.

The marriage would seem to be a promising one. On one hand you have Nuova Simonelli, a successful, innovative manufacturer with worldwide sales of a complete line of contemporary espresso machines -- from the most classic Italian bar brewers to the latest in superautomatics. On the other, with Victoria Arduino, there is one of the oldest and most fabled names in Italian espresso machines. Victoria Arduino is famed for creating some of the very finest designed and handcrafted espresso machiness that Italy has ever produced.

While Victoria Arduino is legendary, it still needed saving. Nuova Simonelli came to the rescue. Nuova Simonelli is vigorousness itself, hopping with energy and ideas, and so perhaps it surprised some when the acquisition of such a treasure was announced. It shouldn't have. Beneath the hail-fellow-well-met exterior of Nuova Simonelli lurks a refinement and sensitivity in its management that is probably unique for a coffee machine company of its size and global presence.

Among the presentations given that day in Portonovo, one that is of interest to the espresso community at large, is a report given by Dr. Maurizio Giuli, of Nuova Simonelli. He kindly provided Tea & Coffee Trade Journal with some of his figures.

The results were gleaned from an independent survey of 1,000 international bars, concerning the general attitudes and practices that give shape to sourcing, maintenance and buying parameters of espresso machines in the flourishing coffee bar business sector.

The survey found that barmen and managers rated their satisfaction with their espresso machinery in a particular pattern. Of those surveyed, more than 50% cited technical assistance as a key factor in satisfaction; 44% mentioned production reliability; 41% brought up trust in and good personal relations with the supplier; interestingly enough, the price-quality factor received only a 36% ranking; training support followed at 30%; and as yet another surprise in survey results, brand name awareness ranked as of no more importance than informational material, such as brochures, at about 27%.

Giuli's report continued to explain that among responses, 90% were from bars, 10% from restaurants and hotels. The establishments were mainly located in city centers (47%) or in suburban locations (35%). In 72% of those surveyed, the establishment was managed by the owner; 24% by a hired manager. Thirty-four percent of those surveyed described their activity as fast food.

Of good cheer to the coffee industry, the survey indicated that the bar/cafe sector does indeed continue to expand. The survey replies show that in 1989, 33% of the businesses served four kilos or less of coffee per week; 26% served from between five and seven kilos weekly; 23% served eight to ten kilos per week; and 17% served more than 17%.

In contrast, the same respondents reported that in 2001, only 25% were serving four or fewer kilos per week; 22% served between five and seven kilos; 23% sold eight to 10 kilos; 17% served more than 17 kilos weekly; and a new category emerged -- 5% reported weekly coffee sales volumes of more than 20 kilos.

That only 79% knew immediately what brand of espresso machine they were using is not surprising when one takes into account that 72% of those surveyed were owners, the people who actually ran their own establishments and so would most certainly know with what they were working day in and out.

As for brand loyalty, 49% reported that the current machine in use was of the same make as its predecessor; 30% said it had changed. Fifty-seven percent said they owned their machines; 41% did not. Of the latter, 96% had received the machine without charge as part of a coffee supply contract. The key influences in making machine choices were given as follows: 52% were influenced by roasters; 37% cited no influence other than their own judgement. Factors in choosing a machine among those buying were brand (66% rating), price (50%), payment conditions (53%), reliability (95%), simplicity (87%), service (97%) and cleaning system performance (82%).

Caffe Salomoni

I had wanted to see Mantua. One of Italy's smaller, treasured cities; the surrounding lakes, the grandeur of the Ducal Palace. Instead I found thick fog. Fog too impenetrable for any hope of seeing Mantua. Nevertheless, I did find Caffe Salomoni, another kind of treasure. It was my consolation prize. Caffe Salomoni stands out in the crowd of smaller Italian roasters for a good number of reasons. This is partly due to its unusual products and well-balanced mix of coffee -- and tea -- business interests. Salomoni is not an old company by Italian standards. Sergio Salomoni created it in 1959, with his hard won expertise in coffee gained at another company. Today the company has grown to comfortable size, well balanced in product mix and commercial interests. This is an unusual company for the style of its product line and for its philosophy toward coffee at origin.

According to Raffaella Salomoni, the export manager and daughter of Sergio, the company's Bio line (organic coffees) is important not only in its own right, but also as a means of introducing the company's other product range. It seems to work something like a Trojan Horse filled with Salomoni wares. Given that, it shall serve the same purpose here.

As Raffaella explains, a small roasting company in Italy needs a specialty to survive and grow. Salomoni began with a premise that equality in its purest coffee meaning, would bring the requisite distinction to the company. But terms of quality do vary, and those of Sergio Salomoni are almost as high as the land where he has searched for his coffees. His quest for truly rare coffees, specifically sources of organically grown, top quality arabicas, taught him just how scarce such sources are -- and sometimes how fragile their production.

The search for purity in coffee became a personal odyssey that led Salomoni into the high mountains of Central America and the Caribbean. It led him in particular to the Sierra Nevada mountains of Santa Maria in Colombia. This is a stunningly beautiful natural area where a truly pure coffee is grown by a small group of native people. Both are in real danger of extinction, and that too is part of the Salomoni story.

To this day, years later, Salomoni remains heavily involved in what is called the Bio Project for sourcing coffee from high, Colombian organic plantations belonging to the Kogee tribe. The Kogee are one of Colombia's last virtually uncorrupted native cultures. This project led to the introduction of the company's first Bio coffee product in 1988. The accompanying certification as organic coffee was the first awarded in Italy.

The Bio Project is obviously an ongoing work of the heart as much as profit. Raffaella admits the margins on Bio are very tight. But the introduction has at least been successful in volume -- last year the company bought four containers of the organic coffee. It is even acquiring private label clients for the coffee (six so far).

The export market for the Sierra Nevada Bio has also grown. France is the major market, followed by Spain -- where Salomoni is producing for the CDP distribution chain in Barcelona -- and Belgium, where again a major distributor, OAO in Brussels, is an important client. Salomoni Bio coffee now even goes to Russia in pods. In addition to the organic coffee grown by the Kogee, the company has also found a coffee of similar status in India.

Salomoni, however, is not a charity. It is profitable. And these profit areas include the regular Salomoni line of gourmet coffees and blends and its two highly popular stores/bars, one in the historic center of Mantua and the other in Verona. The gourmet line of regular, non-organic coffees, includes a personally selected Blue Mountain. The Salomoni espresso blends may actually be unique in Italy as to the aristocratic coffees used: Yauco Selecto, Guatemala coffees, all 17-18 screen, AA washed, Arabicas from Brazil, Mexico and other prime sources in the Caribbean and Central American regions.

For the espresso blends, each origin is roasted separately and then blended to particular recipes. The roasting time varies from origin to origin but averages about 20 minutes. It is a medium dark roast for Italy, typical of northern Italy - in other lands it might well be deemed a truly dark roast.

The ongoing international debate over roasting color is quickly forgotten, however, when this coffee is tasted. It is unique. No other coffee tastes like it to this drinker's knowledge. It is naturally sweet and smooth, never a sharp edge. Its delicate qualities help define the cup, but in no way intrude on what is a full bodied Italian espresso crowned with a light colored but classically thick crema.

The Salomoni operation includes a finely turned out showroom and store adjacent to the roasting plant where HORECA clients can sample and buy. The blends, the company's line of teas, its organic cane sugar product, the chocolate and barley lines all are on display.

The Verona store and bar is managed by Raffaella's uncle; the store and bar in Mantua is managed by her mother. Both establishments include busy espresso bars as well as the boutiques for Salomoni products. No alcohol is served and food is limited to light pastries and snacks. The Mantua outlet is apparently mobbed on a daily basis as it averages serving 1,200 cups of espresso per day, from a single Faema four group machine backed up by five Mazzer grinders. Salomoni packs in the full range of vacuum formats and sizes, with valve or in brick packs, producing whole bean, ground coffee and pods. Tins are reserved for the best coffees. To balance its own bar/store business, the company maintains about 500 bar/cafe/restaurant clients in the local area. Exports are yet another commercial leg, and have climbed steadily until they now represent 30% of turnover.

Something else unusual about this quite unusual company is that it proffers a range of 12 teas and infusions in bags, plus a new venture into tea in bulk. This might not be startling in other countries, but in Italy it is. Even more so when one learns that the tea range has come to account for a quite respectable 20% of Salomoni turnover.

The commitment to quality, to organic coffees, to the Indians of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the firm's careful mix of commercial activities to give it equilibrium: these are all presented in a calm, quiet way that gives the impression they have come effortlessly to hand. But the faces of the Salomoni family show the seriousness of the work and its difficulty. As Raffaella notes, "We are not big, but we've managed to make real quality our business card. Only outstanding quality can keep us going and make us known."

Espresso Wild and Fun

Gian Luca Venturelli it's a name that is well used. The young man it belongs to took the "Luca" to name his coffee roasting company -- Lucaffe. - And Venturelli, the name itself, seems well chosen to an English earas it brings to mind such terms as "adventure," "adventuresome," "venture investment." And all, in one way or another, do apply to the company

In a period of only six years, Gian Luca has put together one of Europe's most market sensitive, marketing oriented and contemporary coffee roasting companies. It now seems so complete, so stylishly finished, that the products could well have come from the smoothest R&D of the largest multinationals. But they don't. They are artisanally roasted, very fine single origins and blends that have been cleverly packaged for two markets -- the rich and the young.

Only six years old, given all that Lucaffe offers it seems impossible. But just to be around Gian Luca for a while explains the amazing productivity and astuteness that shows in all the products. Gian Luca is a bundle of energy, a whirlwind of a man, with an obviously keen mind that has been focused on espresso like a beam of light.

To give descriptive justice to the array of products that have tumbled forth from Gian Luca is difficult. The trove ranges from pods to ground coffee in tins to whole beans in vacuum bags; from products for the home, the corner bar to those for the finest restaurants; from middle quality roasts to those of gourmet status turned out in delicately elegant tins in handmade outer bags. This cornucopia of espresso extends to a more limited selection of teas, unique, nevertheless -- and to espresso brewers, equally unique.

Uniqueness would seem to be one of the guiding spirits of Gian Luca. His packaging for the bar/cafe market is sassy and bold. The line includes Mamma Lucia blend, a classic Italian espresso for the home or vending sector in Italy. Lucaffe's Espresso Bar blend needs no explanation. The Mister blend is 100% Arabica and at the very top end of the line comes Caffe delli Ospite.

All these brands come in whole bean and ground formats, in vacuum sealed bags or in tins. They are in a variety of volumes. Most importantly, as noted, they are packaged for marketing -- to sell to the gourmand of means, or the university student in jeans.

But now for the pods. Gian Luca is a pod man. It's as if all his other products were in fact introductory to the pod, almost like stage props -- props, it is true, that also sell and give the company balance and range.

Nevertheless, Lucaffe is a pod company at heart. It produces pods for all its brands, and aims them primarily at the bar/cafe/restaurant market. The differing styles and qualities of the range means Gian Luca can take position in every price sector. Attention to pod presentation is also uniqueness. For the bar/cafe market the products come in easy to use, self-dispensing cardboard boxes -- 20 pods to a box. And the Lucaffe name and imagery appears on everything. Gian Luca has brought the subtleties of consumer marketing to the out-of-home sector. And evidently people like it.

The company has expanded annually at an astonishing rate. It is exporting 60% of its production to a dozen or more countries. It has already built a large private label pod business as well. And in cooperation with Grimac, the Italian espresso machine manufacturer, it offers clients a complete service system with a line of innovative pod machines in a delightful array of imaginative designs.

Gian Luca has also created his own menu for restaurants to offer their clientele. This is the Pleasure Menu that suggests the following selection in pods -- single origins from Jamaica Blue Mountain, Mexico, Colombia; the two house blends (Espresso Bar and Mister) and a decaf blend. Truly unusual among Italian roasteries, the menu proceeds to offer two flavored pods, caramel cream and hazelnut. To conclude, the menu proposes two tea pods (one of green tea, no less) and Ceylon. The herbal and barley come last.

To dress the presentation further, Gian Luca has designed a handsome presentation box with all the pods on display. The diner can select his own. Here again, marketing, marketing, marketing--the Lucaffe name runs like a theme through the entire presentation and the sachets are dressed either in bright colors for those so inclined, or in very classy scenes from Italian paintings. Italian treasures indeed, cloaking yet other Italian treasures.
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Article Details
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Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:Industry Overview
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Mar 20, 2002
Previous Article:Oxfam to launch coffee campaign.
Next Article:Meet Giuseppe Lavazza. (On the Continent).

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