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It’s all in the roast

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“Single portion coffee is definitely a trend today,” says Managing Director Steven Alexander, who joined UCC Coffee Benelux in this position on 1 January 2016. “Where people used to make a big pot of filter coffee, today you see increased demand for individual, single-serve portions, each with their own flavour.”

This trend has been fuelled by the increasing popularity of capsule or pad coffee machines as well as the rising number of households investing in fully automatic coffee machines. This latter trend means that sales of whole beans are on the rise.

“The culture surrounding coffee has really come to the fore in recent years as people take a greater interest in the origin of coffee, its brewing process and the different taste profiles,” adds Mr. Alexander. This requires extensive roasting and packing expertise.

UCC Coffee Benelux has been roasting coffee in the Netherlands since 1818 and has experienced almost continuous growth throughout its history. In the last 20 years, it has seen its activities expand on the international stage.

In 2012 it was taken over by UCC Coffee, a Japanese company, headed by the Ueshima family, which is fully vertically integrated from the coffee plantation to the barista.

“As UCC Coffee Benelux, we are responsible for production and marketing in the Benelux countries and for exports from our coffee roasting plant in Bolsward to all other European countries where we do not have our own roasting plant,” says HR Manager Han Meij, who has been with the company since 2012. “We produce primarily under private label and are the market leader for whole beans, ground coffee and soft pads.”

In addition to its roasting facilities, UCC Coffee Benelux also has 26 packaging lines for the various packaging forms, from bagged whole beans to vacuum-packed ground coffee. UCC Coffee is unique in that it has three types of roaster. It is therefore highly flexible and can respond to its clients’ demands in terms of the blend while still maintaining a high level of consistency.

“We also have the capacity to scale up production to meet increased demand when they run promotional offers for example,” says Mr. Alexander. “As well as creating a wide range of different blends to meet consumer tastes, we also work to make our production more sustainable.”

Sustainability is another key trend in the coffee sector as consumers increasingly care where their coffee comes from and how it is produced. “We work with internationally recognized codes of conduct to support farmers and protect ecosystems and wildlife all over the world,” says Mr. Meij. “We have been a European leader of sustainable coffee since 1990, long before consumers started asking for it. We have long worked together with organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade and UTZ. Since 1999, demand for sustainable and fairly sourced coffee has grown rapidly. Nowadays, half of what we produce is certified coffee.”

UCC’s commitment to environmental sustainability also applies further downstream in the production process. “We work to diminish energy usage in our plant,” says Mr. Alexander. “Energy consumption per cup is 65% with the consumer, 15% with the grower, 12% in our production and less than 7% in transport and warehousing. Although our overall share is modest, we have installed programs to reduce it and are committed to continuing to reduce our carbon footprint in the future. Here again, we are ahead of most in the market. We are doing it because it is important to us.”

Although more consumers are prepared to pay for licensed coffee, it still has to taste good. “Coffee is a natural product and the harvest can vary from year to year,” says Mr. Meij. “That is where our expertise as a roaster comes in to ensure that we can offer the same quality year in, year out.”

Coffee is a major part of the European market. A quarter of all consumption in the Netherlands is coffee. “It was the Dutch who brought coffee to Europe, even if it is the Italians who are better known for their coffee culture,” says Mr. Alexander. “We recently started activities in Italy, where there is growing demand for our competitive products.”

Exports currently account for a significant part of turnover and are mainly targeted at Scandinavia, Germany and Eastern Europe. In addition to coffee, the company also produces 750 t of tea each year. “We are part of a family-owned company, which makes a huge difference in the corporate culture,” says Mr. Meij. “Although the group is one of the largest coffee roasters in the world, producing 180,000 t of coffee each year, it is still has a family feel.”

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