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Paris Show gives food for thought . . . some tea and coffee too.

Paris Show gives food for thought ...some tea and coffee too

Exhibitions earn their keep, for me at least, when they offer an overview of the tea/coffee sectors, of developments in existing trends, and of emerging new trends. From this viewpoint the most recent edition of SIAL, Salon International de l'Alimentation, held in Paris this past October, was worth the while, although the number of tea/coffee exhibitors were relatively small and the general tone for the sector was neither "international" nor particularly innovative.

Of the more than 4500 exhibiting companies from 80 nations, only 102 from 26 nations claimed relationship to tea/coffee, of which 42 were principally tea related, 55 were with coffee, and 10 were "tea and coffee." SIAL being a French expo, it seems fitting that French companies should dominate at to number, with 34--14 in tea, 16 in coffee, 4 in both. The U.K. had a contingent of 15 companies, 10 in tea, 3 in coffee, 2 in both. Italy also had 15 exhibiting companies, all in coffee. Six companies were present from the Netherlands; 4 from germany; 3 from the U.S.A.

Quite clearly, at SIAL, the product segment dominated, and was dominated by French, British and Italian interests. But I was genuinely surprised at the number of presentations for tea/coffee at origin--23 in sum, from 19 nations. Unfortunately, the impact of these presentations was muted because they were spread out from one corner to another of the vast exhibition area, and, too, the presentations themselves were sometimes vague, overwhelmed within a larger national exhibition of competing interests. The strongest tea/coffee presentations from origin pertained to Colombia, India, Kenya and Mexico.

In the product area, the only multinational names present were Nestle, Lipton and Twinings. Even the major national companies were absent, with the exception of Leporq from France. The field was left largely to smaller firms, and, with them, the commercial emphasis was clearly on up-market fine-food products, on offering private label services to distributors, and on specialty products.

My impressions, for what they're worth:

The French tea companies won for overall strength and sophistication in presentation. The tea sector in general seemed the more aggressive. Although, yes, the Italian espresso coffee companies were still the most eager for business, but I did note that after visiting with several firms it became difficult to distinguish their products from each other. Espresso continues to boom, but too many look-alike brands are trying to squeeze into the market.

Also, coffee is rushing to create a large gourmet segment for itself--too large to be "gourmet" in the strictest meaning of the word. Nevertheless, niche positioning in the expensive end of the market will pick up growth for coffee, along with espresso. Meanwhile, as evidenced at SIAL, the tea industry is becoming more and more caught up with niche marketing and specialty products, while also yearning, in Europe at least, for a new route to a touchstone of mass consumerism (iced tea, perhaps, is at last on its way here). Flavored coffees may also be on the way in. Ready to drink tea and coffee products in cartons have gained so much in quality that they will in fact become marketable (and even drinkable).

New to me and particularly striking at SIAL: the flavored roasted coffees of Scaramouche; the rare coffees (green and roasted) and marketing zeal of the company Eurovalence; and the Migros ready-to-drink ice teas.

The Migros tea drink ranked as an innovation at SIAL and drew a good deal of interest. News of the ready-made carton drink buzzed through the floor, and I heard about it long before I actually got to the presentation. Seasoned tea people gave the produce a surprisingly high rating. The product has a genuine tea-ness about it. The product is available in three versions: Light, Regular and Herb. The Swiss-based parent company has European commercial representation by the Swiss Delice office in Hengelo, Netherlands.

Eurovalence is a young company with a high energy level, as fueled by its young director James Taylor. Taylor is an American, resident in France, who has taken up the mantle to spread the gospel of fine coffee to the top run of French coffee retailing and Horeca (foodservice) market. His ideal, shared with many coffee people in France, is to bring France's better restaurants and hotels to consider coffee with the same reverence held for food and wine; or, in other words, to win a place for coffee in the French gastronomical pantheon. Breaking an old tradition of indifference to indifferent coffee served indifferently is not an easy task for Taylor or his colleagues in the crusade. The spell is compounded by the fact that coffee is the one ingredient for the French table that people feel free to shrug off and happily pay as little as possible for. Nevertheless, Taylor has scored some success for his coffees in the higher strata of roasting and service establishments.

The company markets green and roasted coffees. The green menu is strictly limited to Jamaican Blue Mountain, Hawaiian Kona and Colombian "St Agustin"--this last and newest offering being billed as a hand sorted coffee from the Huila province. These rare coffees, termed "crus" to give them clout in a world endeared to wine jargon, are sold at rare prices, and, in the case of Blue Mountain, for as much as six times current Arabica price levels." Taylor imports the roasted coffee from Fairwinds in the U.S.A., and is offering the Fairwinds Jablum line of Blue Mountain, the company's Kona Lei roast, as well as the new selection of mini packs (56.6g each), which hail from various tempting origins. Eurovalence is certainly not the only company providing France with rare and expensive coffees, but it is perhaps the one most narrowly and zealously focused on the gourmet end of the market.

Another encounter at SIAL was with Scaramouche, a line of flavored coffees launched only about five months ago by their youthful creator and owner Ludovic Mazzuca, via the Paris-based company of Florian Brice. Although I have seen gaining speculative interest in flavored coffees across Europe, in my experience this ranks as the boldest and most dynamic launch yet for a line of unique, flavored products. Mazzuca says he came up with the Scaramouche concept during a visit in the U.S.A.; that may be, but the styling and marketing for Scaramouche is classically, elegantly European in the grand tradition--"Scaramouche" is a leading character of the Italian Comedia dell'arte, hence the use of black and white parquet motifs, the masks, the whimsical aura. Mazzuca also says that it has taken a year and a half to put the fine touches on Scaramouche. That looks plausible. I wish someone would dress me as well.

The coffee comes in 125g vacuum packs, boxed to resemble fine perfume as much as coffee. The flavor range includes chocolate, almond, cinnamon, mint, orange and vanilla. The product is roasted, flavored, packaged in France. The blend is 100% Arabica. The line has apparently gained a fairly wide distribution, and a classy, picky one at that, with availability across such counters as Fauchon, Hediard, Betjemin & Barton, and the large French coffee shop chains--Meo and Coffea.

PHOTO : Something new at SIAL: Scaramouche is an exuberant line of flavored coffees from France, prepared and packaged for up market distribution by Ludovic Mazzuca in Paris. The Scaramouche coffees come in chocolate, vanilla, mint, orange, cinnamon, almond flavors.

PHOTO : Faces at an exhibition--and this one belonging to Jean-Francois Molay, president of Cafes Suavor, the French coffee roasting company that has built a growing international reputation for its blending and roasting arts, and which ranks among the leaders in the nation's shift to a new coffee consciousness.

PHOTO : A standout among the 15 Italian espresso coffee companies gathered at SIAL: Franca Carella, representing her family-owned company Moka Rica. The Moka Rica coffees are exported to France, Germany and the U.K. (Photo at left)

PHOTO : Victor Ivankov of Co. Ind, Bologna, Italy, use SIAL to launch Meseta on the French market. Meseta has been a success in Italy, where in three years it has acquired a 2% share of the in-home market. Meseta is designed to look and taste a little different--100% Arabica, and as bag-in box or tin. (Photo at right)

PHOTO : The French tea companies seemed to be the winners as to overall strength and sophistication of presentation at SIAL, typified by Dammann and its PDG Jacques Jumeau-Lafond.
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Title Annotation:Salon International de L'Alimentation
Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1991
Words:1421
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