The coffee category is complex and unique – it needs a team with the skills and mindset to match

By Theofanis Lekos, Group Coffee Capabilities Manager, Coca-Cola HBC

When I started working in the coffee industry in 2005, coffee was widely viewed as a morning wake up beverage or a means of recharging during the day. Since then, our emotional connection with coffee has evolved from just refueling, to pleasure, love and appreciation for the craftmanship.

No wonder it has grown into such a dynamic and fascinating category. People enjoy it everywhere and any time, at home, at work, on the go, in cafes and bars, as a breakfast ritual or a cocktail mixer. More and more know how to distinguish an Arabica from a Robusta bean and are willing to pay more for a single origin, single variety or a specialty coffee. To get noticed by this discerning crowd, brands need to have a good story related to their origin, craft, environmental and social credentials, which is why we are delighted to be working with Costa coffee.

But to win in coffee, you also need a team with a passion for and understanding of the potential of this incredible beverage, a winning culture and some defining characteristics. Building just that has been fundamental  to our work with Costa, which kicked off nearly a year ago, and as we bring the brand to more and more markets.

Best talent with a deep understanding of coffee

We have built capabilities and brought new talent into the orgnaisation, including coffee ambassadors and experts who have their own barista experience and passion. This is vital for the people who lead coffee conversations, because they need to know how to unlock the maximum out of every blend and understand all the parameters that influence the perfect cup, such as roasting profile, recipe, equipment, climate conditions and quality of water. They need to be able to distinguish the different aromas, tastes and flavours, while mastering alternative brewing techniques to meet the needs of their customers and consumers.

A newcomer in the Coca-Cola HBC coffee sales team spends many hours training before they meet their first customer, on topics such as the roots and history of coffee, our portfolio and available platforms, and mastering the perfect pour. Along with young and passionate talents, we are proud to work alognside Quality Arabica Graders, ex roastery owners and Authorized Specialty Coffee Association (AST) certified trainers. This investment showed me how serious we are about winning in this category, but it has also driven new skills in the organisation and showcased the power of bringing outside thinking in.

The best coffee partner for customers, advancing commercial capabilities

To operate in the competitive world of coffee, we also need to provide a total offering to customers, consumers, and shoppers and to understand what they want, when and how they want it. This combines a number of elements such as coffee quality, coffee variety, alternative formats and channels, best in class equipment and technical support, continuous education, as well as an introduction to new technologies which upgrade the consumer experience and advance the operational performance of professionals.

Imagine the scene, for example, if a coffee machine breaks down in a packed  café . This requires real time support to get it functioning again, fast. Better still,  we ensure proactive measures are taken to  prevent such a breakdown in the first place, including training, technical support and maintenance. We also face very different customer and consumer demands. For example, the same consumer might be looking for a specific variety in an alternative format in a supermarket to make at home, while appreciating the craftmanship of a perfectly served beverage in a restaurant or a barista-quality coffee poured from the machine at work. This requires an agile and dynamic supply chain and deep commercial capabilities.

Adding value to the end consumer experience

On top, each and every successful coffee team needs to be open-minded, experimental and engage in two-way interaction with the overall industry to ensure a respectful, responsible and meaningful sharing of knowledge. This has driven our best in class 24/7 Coffee and Beverages Experience Centers, already present in five of our coffee markets with more to come soon. Amongst coffee, equipment and capable barista hands, we are unlocking our creativity, engaging our key stakeholders, testing new recipes and blends and most important of all, crafting the beverages that will delight consumers and add value to our customers.

Coffee lovers are curious and increasingly conscious  of  every step of their coffee beans. So just having great coffee and the capability to deliver best tasting end cup result is not always enough. From crop to cup, Costa Coffee is a powerful example of a brand which believes that having the best coffee also means having the most sustainable one. Only a single digit percentage of the world’s coffee production comes from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms and since 2008, every bean Costa Coffee source for their coffee has been 100% RFA certified.

So, what really makes a successful coffee team? Passion, agility, resilience, a positive attitude and winning spirit, combined with continuous capability building and close relationships with customers, consumers and shoppers. Coffee is a journey and for us the destination is being recognized as the ultimate coffee partner. In such a competitive and lively landscape, it’s going to be quite a ride.

Theofanis Lekos - CCHBC Group Coffee Capabilities Manager (004) Theofanis Lekos - CCHBC Group Coffee Capabilities Manager (004)