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Talking with the electric: Mr. Rossi: tea & coffee's Jonathan Bell interviews Giampiero Rossi, president of The Rossi United Companies, and one of Italy's key players in the international espresso industry.

JB: First you, Giampiero. There's always a story behind the man. People in the coffee business think you are a tough guy. Are you?

GR: If expecting that everybody should respect their commitments and other people's jobs is being tough, well, yes! I am.

In business lots of People know how to be tough, me too. But I always try to deal with people foremost in considering the high value of the human relationships we all have with each other, whether as suppliers, customers or partners.

A gentlemen's agreement, the shacking of hands--for me those personal commitments are still of great importance.

JB: The group of companies you control--The Rossi United Companies--are totally unique, in sum, in coffee. Describe the basics of these united companies--the different products and their markets.

GR: It all started in the 1950s with Gino Rossi, my family's company, producing grinders and parts for the emerging espresso coffee business in Italy.

Then the Ulka company was established in 1975, to produce oscillating pumps for the household sector. Now we're leader of the market with more than 10 millions pumps sold per year.

In 1977 came one of our breakthrough decisions: to enter the espresso coffee brewing machine market, Our Brasilia brand was created to satisfy the increasing demand from markets all over the world for espresso and cappuccino drinks. Brasilia is now web consolidated worldwide with more than 20,000 professional machines going into the market per year.

In 1980, we acquired Italfiltri, a leader in parts production--now making more than 8 million units annually. These are espresso machine filters and shower pieces. Italfiltri fits our vision of building an integrated production structure for the group, as well as gaining diversity via market presence in all the pertinent sectors.

In another major break-through for the United Companies approach, since 1980 we have pioneered in the pod packaging business, manufacturing pod makers and entire pod lines under the Gino Rossi brand name.

JB: What inspired this diversity; what logic did you follow in building such a combination of coffee activities?

GR: The logic was and is to become a total turn-key company for our customers, at any level. Whatever they might need in their espresso business, we want to be there with the answer, with the best solutions we can find.

All the companies operate in complete autonomy, which is very important. But the added value, if you will, of such a combination is that when needed in Specific projects they can also work as a coordinated team.

JB: I'd like to know your view points on the following: Where are pods going? There have long been great expectations for them--the teabag of espresso! But they have not taken off as hoped. What's holding them back?

GR: Pods are one of the three main changes in the coffee market since 1945, First, the espresso machine was created in a new way that revolutionized espresso service. Second, the packaging technologies evolved which now allow people to drink a fresh-tasting Italian espresso blend anywhere in the world. Thirdly, came the pod. It allows us to have a quality espresso anywhere, but especially for the first time at home and in the office where a professional barista is not available.

Pods are of tremendous significance. I consider that it is only a matter of time before they gain the same value to coffee as the teabag has for tea. The problem the pod market is facing now is mainly due to the lack of awareness that it even exists. The public as a whole has not yet discovered it. Huge investments will be necessary to promote the concept, no doubt. But experience shows that the more you invest in promotions, sales and marketing, the more you sell.

We are members in the ESE (Easy Serving Espresso) consortium. The consortium now includes the top roasters and espresso machine manufacturers. This is important because it means that the group studying the pod market and the best way to promote the system also has the means to achieve our common goals, Working together I'm sure that pod usage expansion will become easier and faster.

My opinion is that in the near future the demand for pods in the home market is going to outstrip supply Otherwise it would make no sense that we've been able to sell pod packaging lines with a growth rate of 25% a year.

JB: Your Gino Rossi division has been a trailblazer in pod-making machinery. Are sales meeting your original expectations? Which part of the world is going to pods most rapidly? Do you foresee a pod maker in every roastery or will it remain a specialty, with considerable contract packaging as part of the market?

GR: I will never admit I'm satisfied, Numbers are positive, however, with more than 250 packaging tines sold world wide. That is a good figure.

Demand is rapidly increasing now so we've just open and activated a new 5000 sq. m. area for the Gino Rossi factory, for a total of 23,000s q.mt.

Roasters are the main customer for pod makers, but more and more investors are also attracted by the business--showing up in contract packaging, or as big operators entering the market; there are integrated joint ventures being formed from roaster to espresso machines.

Pod maker sales have been strongest in Italy and in Europe, and these regions are still the market leaders, but the U.S. is becoming strong too. I can say that we have lines running on every continent.

JB: What do you think about the evolution in beverage (food) service in Europe? National chains are getting bigger--such as Te & Cafe in Spain; then there is the multinational factor, i.e. Starbucks. Columbus Coffee has been a big success in France, and they are clearly patterned on a Starbucks-like model. Does this threaten the traditional bar? Will Euro peons begin driving and walking around with paper cups of coffee like Americans?

GR: Coffee has been and will always be of great social importance in Europe. Since its appearance in 1700, it has become the preferred drink for socializing, because of its effect on our mood.

Coffee--espresso, cappuccino or filter--is now a very profitable business, but at the same time the customer is becoming more and more sophisticated. The challenge is to change along with customer expectations: he wants quality coffee drinks in comfortable shops. This is where we have to focus our attention.

The quality of coffee should follow the wine marketing strategy, where the origin and processing are well highlighted to educate the final customer. Baristas should be trained in accordance.

To be a successful coffee shop chain doesn't necessarily mean being big. Rather, it means being able to feel and follow the social trends There was a time when you could expect the customer to just ask for "a cup of joe" or "an espresso"--now it's time to give more, with more coffee culture and more quality drinks.

JB: Why has Brasilia chosen to focus so much attention on the barista, more so perhaps than any other espresso machine company? Brasilia has become famous for its training course manuals and materials, sponsorship of competitions, etc. This has been expensive, what return does it give?

GR: As mentioned, our vision is to be a full service company for our customer. True, the espresso coffee machine is our core business and we are focused on it. Research and technological development are our strength. Our production, sales and after sales departments are always being improved to keep pace with the highest possible standards.

But this is still not enough. You need to look beyond the machine. To assist our customers in their bar business, we created a division called IFL (Italian Food & Leisure), staffed by a group of professionals, coordinated by our marketing department, who provide solutions specifically on: Coffee Shop Project Management, Concept Formatting and Batiste Training, We invested in training specifically because we strongly believe it is a tool to achieve better performance. That is in the best interest of our customers and too, of course, of the Rossi United Companies.

Again, nowadays, to be successful, you must be professional, If our machines are serviced and operated by well trained people they are worth much more, it's a value-added principle The return we expect is therefore a satisfied customer with a better performing machine, a customer who feels Brasilia is a partner.

The result is that important chains of coffee shops have appointed us to develop specific training for their staff. As part of this we want the results of training to be rewarded and respected, so we are involved in several initiatives to achieve this. We have supported the World Batiste Championship, in particular, where the target is excellence in preparation and service.

Currently, we are working to develop the Italian Barista Championship. In cooperation with the specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE) we wish to establish a competition based on WBC rules among the best batistes in Italy.

JB: Same question about cost and return applies to Brasilia's flamboyant promotions of unusual coffee drinks, coffee cocktails, and coffee bar concepts. I've seen your amazing coffee cocktail recipe book At major fairs I've seen Brasilia mounting everything from large-scale coffee nightclubs to kiosks? Why these initiatives?

GR: This is part of the IFL project and I would say part of our attitude. We say, why make coffee a boring business? Coffee as mentioned before is a social fact. Why do we drink a coffee or an espresso? It is a pleasure, that's why. Is pleasure boring? The "flamboyant promotion" reflects this philosophy.

JB: What current innovations coming out of the United Companies, or soon to come. are of most interest to you?

GR: As mentioned, research and technical developments are our driving force, that never stops. We are in the Host-Sic Fair in Milan soon, where again we will be ready with some interesting ideas. These are surprises for the visitors to our booth. We'll be welcoming everybody to see them.

JB: There is news that recently the Rossi United Companies has begun a rather startling collaboration in Colombia Can you reveal the specifics of this?

GR: This is one of the results of the "turn key strategy" behind the concept of our group of companies. For now I can only report that we'll be working as technical partners on a project with the Federacion Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia There will be an official announcement shortly. Maybe you'll even get one, Jonathan.

JB: Thanks, I'll be looking for it. You have served as president of the Italian Association of Espresso Machine Manufacturers (UCIMAC). What insights did that experience give you about Italian espresso?

GR: I served as its president for several years, and I really tried hard with my colleagues to succeed in different important tasks Unfortunately and with a little bit of frustration I have to admit that in the espresso coffee market the political and economical power of UCIMAC is weak.

The espresso coffee market has become global and complex. The Italian Espresso Coffee Machine Manufacturers Association, even though it represents the major companies of the sector, needs the support of other operators to decide market strategies and coordinate operations in order to standardize or promote products.

I strongly hope to see this united effort one day

JB: What do you think the worldwide espresso business needs most to continue flourishing?

GR: My vision is of an espresso world guided by a culture of drinking fine coffees (not necessarily espresso), This means a future of a better life and better business for all concerned. To achieve it we need at every level--with producers, roasters, bar owners, managers and baristas--a clear commitment to quality.

For our part, as Rossi United Companies we are working hard to provide the best grinding and brewing technology and promote the best coffee service We're not the only ones responsible for the quality in the cup, but where we have responsibility we take it seriously.

JB: Should espresso worldwide be promoted to carefully follow the classic Italian model; obey strict guidelines? Espresso in the U.S. for example is quite different from what Italians would expect.

GR: No, I don't think espresso should obey strict rules. In our opinion espresso is like cooking, in fact the barista has to know the main ingredient, the right dosage, how to tamp, to set and operate a machine, and finally recognize a perfect shot to serve In cooking there are rules and guidelines to follow but it is the creativity of the cook that makes the difference We have to give the trained barista the same freedom. We are not the final judge, the customer is.

Our input is to do our best to train the operator and educate the customer to good quality coffee service.

JB: Given the world power of American culture will the U.S. style of espresso become more standard than the Italian? Meaning, mostly as cappuccino, often with syrups, rarely as vigorous or short as an Italian cup, and mostly treated as a fast food chain product?

GR: Italians created espresso--to be precise, the creativity of Italian technology produced it. Therefore we have the know-how and the longest experience to be leaders in espresso business worldwide. I think we can be considered as a reference. But we've got to be open-minded too and carefully follow new trends and local customs.

Frappuccino or cappuccino; it doesn't matter. The goal is for it to be well prepared and served, then it becomes the customer's choice to ask for more and come back. More choices, more business.

JB: Giampierro, I have known you for more years than I care to admit in print. You are a character, as unique in looks and thought as your group of coffee business holdings. What do you attribute this to?

GR: Since I was born I've had coffee, grinders, and espresso coffee machines all around me. It's my life. Besides which, I try to live everyday with passion and intensity.

JB: Tell the truth, are you on a one-man miss on to revolutionize coffee?

GR: Well!.... Half-and-half. Yes! I would like to technologically revolutionize the world of coffee, for example allowing people everywhere to have an espresso in a simple and easy way by pods or fully automatic machines,

But also no! I'm not on a "one-man mission;" without the people around me I couldn't do anything, The Rossi United Companies count now more than 500 people working together, and we are growing every year.

JB: OK, the last big question: What achievement are you most proud of in your career?

GR: ... the next
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Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Nov 20, 2003
Words:2453
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