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Thomas Patrick Meier: Franke’s new approach to the Italian coffee market

In this exclusive interview to Comunicaffe International, the CEO of Franke Coffee Systems talks about new challenges in the world market for super-automatic coffee machines.

MILAN – Thomas Patrick Meier (PICTURE) is the CEO of Franke Coffee Systems, a globally leading manufacturer of super-automatic coffee machines in the world with sales of over 200m euros last year.

Comunicaffe International met him at Host to talk about his company and find out how he intends to approach the Italian market, an important target market for the Swiss company.

Can you give us a brief history of Franke’s involvement with commercial coffee machines?

“It all started with Mövenpick, the famous Swiss company with a focus on gastronomy. In the 80s, they said there was a need for a coffee system that would allow hotels and restaurants to serve very good coffee at the push of a button. Mr. Prager, the founder of Mövenpick, challenged Franke to come up with a solution very quickly. And within 6 months of his request, the foundations for Franke Coffee Systems were laid with the acquisition of Augsburger AG, a coffee machine manufacturer based in the Canton of Berne. That is how the coffee business started at Franke, and it’s been growing very strongly ever since. So, today, we are one of the leading coffee system brands in the world producing fully automatic machines; we occupy the number two position in the world in this business. All in just 30 years, and the business is still growing strongly.”

What does it mean to Franke to be the ambassador for good coffee? What added value does the brand bring?

“Ultimately, we want to make really good espresso, hassle-free. This is our passion – making very good espresso at the push of a button. There are Italian baristas, working manually with traditional machines. What we do is to make a very good espresso too, consistently, at the push of a button. The added value lies in this passion for Espresso, and also in our technology. So it is passion for best coffee, combined with putting intelligence in coffee machines. The machines incorporate a lot of high tech, so there is a lot of intelligence inside the machines. As a consumer, you just press a button, but you get wonderful results in the cup.”

What new challenges does the super-automatic coffee machine market present, and what is the potential for this market?

“The challenge is to continuously improve the quality of the coffee and drinks. That is the first challenge. The second revolves around digitalization: connectivity, digitalization etc. Developments in this field move very quickly these days. So the challenge is to always be at the forefront as innovation leader and always offer something new which is relevant for our customers. It’s a challenge, but it’s also fun, because you can think about new ideas and make them come alive quickly. Also, if you look at the industry as a whole, it is all about moving towards better quality in the cup, digital solutions, and then also the fact that we can sell the machines everywhere in the world, whilst offering the same outstanding quality. I also have to say that I think we will see the barista machine, the traditional machine, and the fully automatic machine, becoming more similar. You can see it at Host. What does Franke see for the future? I think good espresso will be available all over the world. Not just in coffee shops or bars, but also at gas stations, convenience stores and in hotels – and that is actually already the case and becoming more mainstream every day.”

Can you give us some facts and figures about Franke?

“We are part of the Franke Group with around 2 bn euros in sales and globally active in the four fields of kitchen systems, foodservice systems, water systems and coffee systems. Over 9,000 people work for the group at locations in over 100 countries worldwide. The Franke Coffee Systems sales last year were over 200 million euros, and we saw very strong growth. At Franke Coffee Systems, employ around 500 people. Everything is developed and produced in Switzerland. We have approx. 10% of our personnel working in research and development (R&D), where we employ engineers, software developers etc. If you think about touch screens and IoT, software development becomes increasingly important.”

What do you consider to be the challenges in the Italian market?

“Italy is the land of great espresso!  So it’s an opportunity for us, but also a challenge. We are passionate about really starting to develop and invest more in the Italian market. So, firstly, we are hiring new people, and we have opened a showroom in Milan, and we also have a showroom in Peschiera del Garda. So we are investing in the Italian market, because I believe that people in Italy also want to get a very good cup of espresso or a Cappuccino, quickly, at the push of a button, because you cannot have well trained baristas everywhere, and take the time to wait, drink and go. It’s just not possible. So there is potential for fully-automatic machines in Italy as well, for when quick service is needed, but you still want to have good quality espresso.”

Is there any particular situation where Franke has seen the importance of communication?

“I think we have just realized it now with iQFlow. iQFlow is a revolutionary new way of making a truly perfect espresso – consistently, from the first shot to the last, without grinder adjustments, etc. We have started using Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and conversations with Comunicaffe to talk about our passion, and it’s amazing how quickly the news move. We posted on social media 3 or 4 days ago, and already more than 40’000 people have seen it. And lots of people came here to see our products and iQFlow on the first day of Host. So you see, the power and speed of social media is amazing.”

As fast as good coffee from a super-automatic?

He laughs.

Lastly, what does Franke think of Host 2017?

“It’s fantastic! I see the whole industry performing very well. Nobody is saying, ‘we have problems’. Everybody is positive, full of ideas and passion. I love the idea of Host; it’s great to be here, and it just shows that the whole industry is very much alive, positive and enthusiastic.”