Thursday 09 February 2023

Rolando Schirato, Vittoria Coffee: “The history of our company is intertwined with the growth of espresso coffee in Australia”

Rolando Schirato: "We introduced true Italian-style espresso to the country in the 50’s and were responsible for convincing Australians to brew coffee at home"

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MILAN – As they define themselves on the company’s website, Vittoria Coffee is “a proud third-generation family business”: as is often the case, a small business that grows and is passed on, along with skills, passion and research. Rolando Schirato, Managing Director of Vittoria Food & Beverage, has joined his father Les Schirato, the ceo, in running Vittoria Coffee and together they have helped to shape the Australian coffee industry – which is thriving to the point of influencing the rest of the world.

Vittoria Coffee opened its doors in 1958 in Australia: what was the coffee and speciality scene like in one of the lands that first rode the Third Wave?

“There was no specialty scene in 1958. Back then, Australia was a nation of tea drinkers because of its British heritage. Australian consumers knew very little about coffee. Most coffees were imported from Europe and were stale by the time they arrived. We knew coffee needed to be fresh so we began roasting locally. We also only used premium 100% Arabica beans, long before the wider market understood this measure of quality.

These days, the discussions have moved from Arabica towards specialty grades but the principle is still the same. High-quality, locally-roasted coffee. This is something we’ve been committed to since we started.”

A curiosity: where did the name Vittoria Coffee come from?

“It was the name of our very first roaster, and we named the coffee after the roaster from which it was made.”

How did it become one of the benchmarks among Australian coffee shops?

“It’s impossible to tell the story of Australian coffee without mentioning Vittoria. Our company’s growth is intertwined with the growth of espresso coffee in Australia.

We introduced true Italian-style espresso to the country in the 50’s and were responsible for convincing Australians to brew coffee at home.

Everyone thought my father was crazy when he was trying to sell coffee to supermarket retailers in the 1980s. At the time, Australia was mainly a nation of tea drinkers due to our UK heritage. It was a battle back then because back then no one thought Australians would drink Italian espresso. But he hustled and when cafe culture took off in the late 80s and 90s, our company became one of the burgeoning industry’s foremost suppliers. Today, we roast the equivalent of 2.5 million cups of coffee a day.

Since the start, we’ve always had a long-term vision. We began locally roasting premium 100% Arabica beans here in Australia, back in 1958, long before the wider market understood this measure of quality. We are vigilant with our commitment to quality from our selection of the highest-quality green beans, how they’re picked and washed. We run one of the most technologically advanced roasting facilities in the South Hemisphere with control over every stage of the process. This ensures the ability to replicate the desired profile of each batch accurately, with unrivaled consistency.”

You have created new solutions over the years: tell us about the specially designed beans for Almond, Oat and Soy Milks, what does your research involve?

“Alternative milks are huge in Australia. Plant-based milks like almond, soy and oat are on track to capture half of the foodservice coffee market in Australia in the next few years.

There are many coffees available from cafes that pair nicely with plant-based milks and many that don’t. While foodservice operators and roasters are conscious of this dynamic, we felt this wasn’t clear to consumers in a retail environment and we wanted to give our customers a specially-crafted blend that would maximise the taste of their plant-based milk coffee.

We created a new blend, mainly using South American Arabicas roasted to a medium-dark profile to cut through the bitterness of unsweetened alternative milks. The result is a sweet, strong cup with notes of dark chocolate, honey, caramel, malt and toffee.”

What kind of coffee do you import – do you have direct contact with farmers? – and how do you roast it – light, medium light, dark?

“We import green coffees from all over the world. We deal directly with farmers for small lots, but we buy the majority of our beans through our buying partners who are on the ground in their region every day. We buy most of our coffee from Central and South America along with many other countries and regions including Australia, Indonesia and Africa.

We roast blends and single origins across a variety of roast profiles from from light to dark to suit different consumer tastes.”

Your offer also includes capsules: is the Australian market a big consumer of these?

“The capsule market in Australia has grown significantly over the last few years, particularly since COVID. While the traditional beans and ground products have been sold in grocery stores for 40 years, it’s taken less than 10 years for capsule sales to reach a similar size.

Currently the size of each segment in grocery is as follows:

Beans and ground coffee $236m
Capsules: $210m

(Data is MAT to 4 Sept 2022. IRI Scan Data Aust grocery)

Our research has shown there’s a lot of crossover buyers with people buying both capsules and beans and ground. They will use a capsule in the morning because it’s more convenient but they’ll make a plunger or espresso on the weekend when they have more time.

We’re the largest Australian manufacturer of coffee capsules and were the first Australian producer of aluminum capsules. We supply capsules in multiple formats including for our own Espressotoria system, as well as Nespresso* (third party brand not owned by VFB) compatible capsules.”

What espresso machines and grinders do you use at Vittoria Coffee?

“We have been the exclusive distributor for Faema machines in Australian since the 1950s. We support a range of grinder brands, including Mazzer and Mahlkonig.”

Training and personnel: at Vittoria Coffee, how do you manage these two focal points for excellent service?

“So many of our staff work directly with our customers. They are the heart and soul of our company and we invest significantly in their training, particularly supporting their knowledge of coffee. We see our role as working with our customers to help them grow their coffee sales. We openly share our knowledge with our customers including the collective experiences of our thousands of customers built over 75 years.

We have also designed our ongoing training and induction programs to create the next generation of industry leaders. We empower all our staff by exposing them to all areas of the business, offering multiple career paths, job rotations and exposure to large projects. We encourage our staff to work across sales, marketing, key accounts, production, training and technology. It’s the best way our people can understand all the moving parts of our business. It’s exactly how I started.”

How much do you sell your espresso for?

“If you’re talking about the price of an espresso from a cafe, these typically cost around AUD $3-$4. With the cost of raw coffee rising so significantly, all retail coffee pricing in Australia has been increasing and an average per kilo price of $30/kg.”

How far does your distributor network extend, between hotels, restaurants, coffee shops?

“Our international supply chain covers over 6,000 foodservice customers in more than 20 countries.”

How far do you plan to go?

“We see nothing but opportunity for our business with multiple coffee brands and coffee formats established in market. Recent new product launches including instant coffee have unlocked huge growth and opened new opportunities for our business backed by our strong brand awareness, cafe credentials and commitment to quality. We have a huge pipeline of new initiatives that are part of our distribution plans that will see us out well beyond the next 3-5 years.”

And what is the coffee shop and roastery scene like in Australia today, especially specialty coffee?

“I think Australia is regarded as having some of the best coffee roasters and cafes in the world. Our industry is very strong. There are new roasters starting all the time. It’s a thriving and dynamic industry that is the birthplace of many industry firsts and ongoing innovations.”

How do people drink coffee there? How many still consume it outside the home and how many take to the home bar?

“Most people drink coffee with milk and whilst black coffee consumption is growing, it still represents a significant minority of the overall coffee consumption. Latte, cappuccinos, piccolos and espresso still remain the most common menu items with Australian-born coffee menu items including the flat white that is now available in many markets (notably picked up in the US) and the “Magic” a Melbourne born recipe – consisting of a double ristretto in a 5oz cup with milk, or more simply a strong ¾ flat white.

Australians still enjoy a healthy mix of in-home and out of home consumption with cafes long ago taking over pubs as the primary place to meet and socialise. The out of home coffee market is still significantly larger than the at-home coffee market in overall sales.”

What does the future hold for this iconic brand in the next generation?

“Over 75+ successful years, we’ve always developed and adapted to the changing market. With three generations of experience and knowledge in the business, the future will see us continue to expand our portfolio into new areas and build strategic partnerships both locally and internationally to bring new, convenient and high-quality coffee experiences to our customers all over the world.”

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