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The golden cups of Finland.

The golden cups of Finland

Once upon a time, during a visit to a European coffee company renowned for the quality of its cup, I asked, as usual, about the standards followed to achieve such a fine coffee drink; as to green coffee buying, I was told with a special emphasis, "We buy very much like Paulig." The speaker was alluding with pride to the Finnish coffee roastery that has attained near legendary status for its high volume consumption of first class green coffees.

The Gustav Paulig company is situated in a sprawling, campus-like complex among the thick woods that are so typical of suburban Helsinki, a rustic setting that is just beginning to be touched by Finland's economic miracle. The company has been there since the late 60's, when it relocated from central Helsinki. Paulig is 100% a family-owned company, and that shows clearly in style and tone; Bertel Paulig is managing director.

The company is involved primarily with various food/packaging/trading and transportation interests, but its coffee division accounts for about two-thirds of sales and in turn is the dominant force on the Finnish coffee market. By dominant, that is to say it holds more than 40% of the total market, and is the leader for home and out-of-home sales. Finland's total coffee consumption last year came to 990,000 bags, green weight - from actual imports of 1,056,810 bags. Consumption increased by 3%, and per-capita consumption remained at slightly more than12kg. (if all consumer drank like the Finns we would be standing in coffee lines!).

Paulig's coffee division, including green coffee trading, is managed by Juhani Parta. The company's "coffee" area interests also include sales in Finland of Melitta paper filters (holding 60% of the large filter market) and the activities of Vaseco Oy, a subsidiary specialized in vending, coffee and snack machines and related services. Abroad, the company owns Paulig Ltd., which produces coffee and tea products in Britain for the U.K. market.

Jouko Pihkanen, purchasing director for the coffee division in Helsinki, is the man buying Paulig's green coffee. The company's reputation in this area thereby comes to rest on his desk. He's had the job since 1985, and joined the Paulig purchasing department in 1981, having started out in a career in marketing. "I spent a year learning coffee from the ground up in Brazil," he explains. "Then I had more training in Switzerland and New York."

Given the Paulig position on the Finnish market, it is hardly surprising to learn that the company's buying profile is something of a mirror to the nation's; as a rough indication of interests, for the 12 months ending in April 1990, Brazilian coffees held 29% of national imports, Colombia accounted for 28.6%, Costa Rica for 12.4%, Guatemala for 10.8%, and Kenya for 7.2%. Imports during the period reached 65,461 tons.

"We buy to suit the demands of our particular Finnish taste in roast, and for a market that is traditionally very demanding and knowledgeable as to quality," says Pihkanen. "Actually, we don't think of our brands as `specialty' products, nor of one of our brands as a premium label - all our brands have a high level of green coffee in them. Our most important brand in sales is Juhla (Jubilee), and for that we are using 14 varieties in the blend. We are committed to certain classic coffees, but must try to maintain many components to insure cup consistency from year to year."

As a national market, in fact, Finland can be viewed as something of a giant "specialty" coffee market. What might pass as an especially fine and rare cup of coffee in Kansas City, is the daily brew in Helsinki. Stability is perhaps the most notable attribute of this market, meaning loyalty to a light, ground roasted product in a 500g. vacuum pack. Espresso style roasts have scored only modest gains - Paulig has two brands in the segment. Beans hold no more than 2% of the market - here Paulig may excel with a "Sheikin" brand in a 250 g. valve bag, a whole bean blend crowned with Ethiopia's cherished Harrar as spice. The bean market has been gaining slightly in Finland due to rising sales of home electric grinders.

The only really significant coffee change in Finland, however, sees the advance of out-of-home sales, which have grown to account for 30% of the market. In truth, this Horeca (foodservice) sector is becoming the nation's gourmet area, cup quality being the deciding factor and with prices to justify the care. Regarding price, Paulig is again an anomaly in context of western coffee markets - it is both price leader and market leader, with its products fetching about 10% more than the competition.

Paulig has no soluble or decaffeinated brands, being that soluble holds less than 1% of national sales and decaffeinated coffee has yet to gain a following. The Paulig roast is Finnish light, a style attributed to the abundance of good soft water and to the very high rate of consumption. The Paulig roast is "slow," therefore, even at 5 min.; blending follows roasting.

At Paulig one drinks his Paulig from a gold painted china cup - the golden coffee cup is the company's symbol. Jouko Pihkanen can attest to the company's considerable efforts at giving meaning to the symbol. "But we also have good help from around the world," he explains with a smile, although an intriguing display in the Paulig lobby hints at an occasional problem. There, under glass, like a Dali sculpture, are gathered some of the rarer items arriving in coffee bags, and highlighted by an elegant high heeled lady's slipper from Brazil. Jouko Pihkanen is also a tea cupper and buyer. Although completely dwarfed by coffee, Finnish tea consumption does exist - 900 tons last year, 200 g. per capita. In tea, Paulig ranks second on the market after Lipton. The company has about 22% of sales.

The Finnish preference in tea veers toward India and Sri Lanka. More than 70% of consumption is in tea bags.

PHOTO : The Paulig family of Finnish coffees; the brands hold more than 40% of the national market, which unto itself is something of a giant specialty coffee market.

PHOTO : Jouko Pihkanen, purchasing director for the Paulig Coffee Division at company offices near Helsinki. The division is one of the world's leading volume buyers of quality coffees.
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Title Annotation:Gustave Paulig and the coffee trade in Finland
Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Dec 1, 1990
Previous Article:Freshness: a quality essential.
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