Tuesday 27 September 2022

Nikola Žiganto, Hug & Punch: “In Croatia, the price of coffee often does not correspond to quality”

The founder: "When we were starting the business nobody in Croatia had any knowledge about specialty coffee and people around the world were just becoming more aware of a more transparent product such as craft coffee."

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MILAN – Hug & Punch has three souls: one as a supplier of green coffee, the second as a top micro roast and the third as an education center. The thread that unites them all is the passion for the drink, carried by the founders of this company with the aim of pushing a way of consuming the quality drink in Croatia as well. A complex task, but one that has never frightened the owners: we spoke to Nikola Žiganto about the story behind this activity in a place so close to Italy.

First of all, how and when was Hug & Punch born? What is the history behind the two founders and coffee?

“Our story is based on friendship and passion for coffee. We have been trying to initiate a
more qualitative approach to coffee for over two decades. Every new project aims to achieve a certain goal. In our case, everything led to Hug & Punch. To create a new product in Croatia is quite a challenge and to present a new category of products is businesswise, next to impossible. Hug & Punch represented a logical step for all the stakeholders and our clients today all greatly benefit from our cooperation. When we were starting the business
nobody in Croatia had any knowledge about specialty coffee and people around the world
were just becoming more aware of a more transparent product such as craft coffee.”

Hug & Punch: supplier, micro roaster and education centre: how do you carry on these three souls?

HUG & PUNCH brewing session (photo provided)

“With the world changing so rapidly, with the Internet and digital media conquering all parts of society, we feel the need to return to the old ways and food and drink seem so logical to start from. People need rituals to enhance their days. Having coffee is one such ritual and to offer it the best way possible, three criteria must be met: top quality ingredient, preparation and presentation. Just as in culinary, alongside with top quality food, you need a top chef to prepare it and a skilled server to present it.The same goes for coffee… We offer the highest quality coffee and after we roast it, we need a barista to create it and to correctly present it, applying all the rules of etiquette for serving. This is a process and all the pieces have to come together in order to round the experience.”

How do people drink and roast coffee in Croatia?

“The Croatian “palate” can tolerate all kinds of qualities of coffee and only few can recognise top quality coffee. Unfortunately, most people are not into the taste of coffee itself and these new trends which make coffee available at every corner (office, bakery, newsagent) have corrupted it, in a way. Also, the great majority of people take their coffee with milk and sugar which additionally masks the genuine taste of it so that the perception of coffee reduced to a hot, sweet and creamy milky beverage is kind of a mainstream. It is no surprise that the market conforms to those standards.”

Is specialty coffee a niche or is it better known than in neighbouring Italy?

A cupping session (photo provided)

“Specialty coffee does not hold a position in our part of Europe and it develops slower than in other, more developed European countries, but the shift is becoming obvious. The thing is, some of the cafés have become obsolete. Those used to be glamorous coffee houses but have become unproductive because nowadays society is only interested in grab and go products. What we hope is that many of them will turn into coffee shops where it will be possible to taste specialty coffee.”

How much does espresso cost there?

“The price of espresso in Croatia varies between one and five euros, but the higher price does not necessarily mean better coffee but rather a more popular location. Generally
speaking, the price often does not correspond to quality and it can be said that popular
brands are still very much dominant.”

Is the figure of the barista valued?

“A lot has been done over the past decade to promote this vocation and to signalise the great demand for such professionals in the hospitality industry. On average, baristas are paid only slightly more than waiters even though they hold greater responsibilities. Preparing coffee amounts to an act of creation within the serving process and the responsibility for the quality of the product served needs to be honoured.

As for distribution, we hope to be an alternative to the existing models in the hospitality
industry. The trade focuses on the price difference and the catering industry can always
offer more for more. Our concept offers exactly that; we fight the global increase in prices by offering more than a standard quality. We believe that if we offer more and better, our guests will appreciate it and will be willing to pay for more.”

How are you dealing with the recent problems of rising raw material prices, utilities and logistical difficulties?

“The pandemic has accelerated the change in consumer habits. Only those ready to adapt
will survive. We hope that the quality will prevail. Only that makes sense for the entire
process from the plantation to the cup.”

Have you ever thought about capsules to expand your offer and intercept the growing domestic consumption after Covid?

The founder of Hug & Punch: “We are a rather small buyer of green coffee which does not make us top priority for many producers. However, by selling the product which is labelled with coffee type and origin we become of interest in the long run. We cooperate with worldwide partners in the business of sample quality control who always propose top quality coffee to us.”

What is your target market and where do you aim to expand?

“That is an excellent question. We are primarily oriented to the Croatian market but as we have been in this business all our lives, we host clients at our SCA Premier Training Campus from the entire region. We, therefore, expect our coffee sales to exceed Croatian borders.”

What is the educational proposal of your academy? What has changed with the pandemic in training?

“As for education sessions, we are very pleased with the turnout because people apply
regardless of the pandemic. Most training programmes are impossible to hold online
because skill development requires personal contact. Ultimately, decreasing group size has
encouraged our candidates to place their trust into our training proces.”

What are Hug & Punch coffee’s future plans?

“Our wish is to open a café in Zagreb .It would be a logical promotional step. A place for
coffee lovers to enjoy our concept. In addition, we are making a great effort to transform our production to a zero waste system. It would definitely be the biggest challenge for the whole team. As part of our business philosophy we would like to emphasise the fact that, by its composition, coffee is a fruit and we should develop coffee industries accordingly.”

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