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Probat celebrates 125 years.

With a guest panel featuring three American, two Japanese, German, Dutch, Italian, Swedish, and Finnish roasters, plus a British chairman, Probat opened the celebrations for its 125th Anniversary in August on a note of high seriousness. The German roastery equipment builders, who made their first, hand-operated machines in 1868, now dominate the engineering sector of the world coffee industry.

The high point of the two-day event, attended by some 180 delegates from North America, all of Europe, India, and North Africa, was a high-level debate on the past, present, and future of the world coffee industry, introduced by Probat's executive manager, Rudolf von Hartmann.

The discussion, under the chairmanship of the European Coffee Federation's veteran president Reg Bickerton, highlighted the present hi-tech, high volume status of coffee roasting. First though, it took a dispassionate look at the condition of the green coffee trade, with Bickerton recounting the events which ended with the recent demise of the International Coffee Agreement (ICO). Professor Renato Wegner, of Italy's Luigi Lavazza, accepted that the old ICO coffee agreements had proved vital for producing countries, which depended heavily on coffee exports for hard currency income.

Nevertheless, he added, although present prices might be good news for consumers, they were down to a level which could eventually drive certain coffee growers out of production entirely.

On a more immediately practical note, Procter & Gamble's Alan Dahl moved the discussion on to the growing role of bulk silo installations in speeding the pre-treatment and passage of green coffees from port of landing to roasting plant. But Henk de Wilt, of Sara Lee/Douwe Egberts in the Netherlands, was quick to point out the traditional reluctance of European roasters to chance revealing blend secrets by entrusting them, however obliquely, to third parties. It was a policy of caution echoed by Bertel Paulig, head of the Helsinki-based multi-national Paulig Group.

Michael Wood of Tetley Inc (whose new U.S. plant will be one of the world's most advanced when it opens in New Jersey later this year) was also quick to emphasize that the bulk silo option might not suit those specialist roasters whose blending systems favored the flexibility allowed by bag deliveries. He also added bleakly that some producer countries still had problems meeting the strict quality standards the silo system demanded.

In Japan, now importing some five million bags a year, the trend is towards espressos and "novelty" canned coffees (taken hot or cold, according to season). Japan might not, agreed Takayoshi Kimura of Ueshima Coffee Co. (UCC), be the world's biggest market, but it was certainly the most adventurous.

Henk de Wilt pointed out that Europe's tastes were also beginning to change, with growing demand in France for Arabicas and increasing sales of superior qualities in all 12 nations of the European Community.

Taro Takeda, from Union Coffee Roasters in Osaka, noted that though Japanese consumption had languished at a mere 80 tons of coffee a year in 1917, demand had soared in the post-1946 era, with the emphasis now increasingly on home consumption. This gave David Olsen of Starbucks his cue to stress the role of specialty roasters in helping North Americans rediscover the romance of coffee. In the process, he added, espresso coffees and the flavored varieties were both winning new devotees by the thousand, as the burgeoning chain of Seattle-based Starbucks' stores is currently proving.

Next, Michael Wood took the discussion forward into the realm of advanced technology, with the emphasis on improved green coffee quality and the overriding demands of the U.S. espresso "explosion." This brought the discussion onto a more intensely technical level, as Probat's own Hans von Gimborn explored the shifting demands now being made on coffee technology, both by consumers and, consequently, the world's roastery operators.

The talk for the rest of the round table debate was intensely complex and geared to the specialist audience, but the single most important note was the growing customer taste for espresso coffees, worldwide as well as in the U.S., and espresso's natural home, the Italian coffee shop. But as Hans von Gimborn said, the holiday habit had spread a taste for the intense flavor of good espresso coffees, as well as prompting a much greater willingness among Europeans to experiment with new wines and "foreign" foods.

The first day ended with a gala evening for Probat's guests, senior company staff, and local notables. The next day included an open invitation to crowds of local folk, who wandered in to visit the new Roaster Museum and explore the five acres of workshops. It was their way of demonstrating that though Probat now provides technical resources to roasteries in scores of countries, the people of Emmerich still see it as, above all, a prime symbol of local enterprise.

Probat Chief Retires

After 45 years with the company founded by his grandfather, and 25 years as general manager, Carl Hans von Gimborn is retiring as chief executive of the roasting plant manufacturer Probat-Werke von Gimborn in Emmerich, Germany. Von Gimborn is the third generation of the Von Gimborn family to head the company, founded in 1868 by his grandfather Theodor von Gimborn. Under his management Probat developed into a foremost supplier of coffee processing equipment, with a workforce of 500 people and agents in over 50 countries.

Von Gimborn now becomes chairman of Probat's board of directors. He will also remain involved with the further development of the company's processing equipment.

The position of general manager will now be filled by Rudolf von Hartmann, who has been a senior executive with the company for several years and will be responsible for sales, manufacturing, engineering, and purchasing. He will head the company, together with Heinz Jammers, who becomes responsible for finance and administration.

The price war hits Tchibo

The Hamburg based Tchibo Frisch-Rost-Kaffee GmbH has been lamenting for some time about the fierce competition in the declining market for roasted coffee. The "price war" has hit Tchibo's profits, according to its board of directors. The coffee roaster has been complaining that the uncertain trend in the international markets for raw coffee, fuelled by price cuts by the major suppliers, had culminated in a "historically unprecedented fall in the end consumer prices."

Tchibo's board of directors envisages further price cuts by the end of the year; "this will, inevitably, lead to a stagnation of turnover and profit for 1993," says a Tchibo spokesman. During the first four months of 1993, Tchibo hiked its sales by 3% in a market which has contracted by 2%. Its market share in West Germany posted a slight drop TO 21.6%. The roast coffee sales reflected a reticent behavior on the part of consumers, said Hasso Kaempfe, Tchibo director.

However, Tchibo expanded its position last year as the leading brand for coffee. The market share rose to 21.7%, from 21.6% in 1991. This success was carried on the back of an aggressively pursued expansion of the range of products with the addition of vacuum-packed coffee which because of its "quality image in the market has generated an extraordinary high resonance," said Kaempfe. But the instant specialities marketed under the general brand "Picco" posted a big jump in sales, said Kaemphe.

Tchibo had also been "satisfied" with its business in Eastern Germany where it has carved out a market share of 8.3%. Tchibo's initial difficulties - the so-called "teething problems" - had been safeguarded. This had, in effect, created the basis for further growth, said Kaempfe.

The total turnover of the company is expected to exceed one billion DM and the range of products would be oriented to high value products. The coffee roaster's "second leg" - it has been marketing consumer goods in its coffee sale shops - contributed last year to a turnover increase of 5% to 2.49 billion DM as in the past years which, in terms of gross sales, reflected an increase of 11% to 957 million DM and accounted for 38% of the turnover. The annual profit before taxation posted over a 100% increase to 83.9 (1991 : 36.8) million DM.

Tchibo's "ambitious investment project of the future" is the establishment of a distribution center in Zarrentin along the former borders between Eastern and Western Germany. The network of warehousing and distribution units located between Hamburg and Berlin in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern will entail an investment of 100 million DM and employ some 400 workers from mid-1995.

The steady rise of the investments is attributed to Tchibo's strong presence in Eastern Europe where Tchibo will be represented with its own production units in Czech, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland by early 1994. Tchibo's East European subsidiaries, whose turnover touched 150 million DM in 1992, caused losses amounting to eight million DM. Nevertheless, Tchibo was satisfied with the progress of these companies because there had been god progress in building up the strong market positions.
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Title Annotation:includes related articles on the coffee roasting industry
Author:Clark, Richard
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Nov 1, 1993
Previous Article:Consumption trends in coffee.
Next Article:Statistics on tea; while tea consumption in Germany remains relatively stable, sales in specialty shops are on the rise.

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