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Coffee talk with Vittoria Food & Beverage boss Rolando Schirato

Vittoria Food & Beverage has been a staple brand in Australia for decades. Rolando Schirato’s grandfather and his brother migrated in 1947, bringing their Italian heritage to Down Under, and saw a great opportunity to open a business by initially importing products such as mineral water, cheese and pasta.

In 1958 they began roasting arabica coffees, a time when Australia was a predominantly tea drinking country. This marked the beginning of the Vittoria Coffee brand as they started supplying coffee to Australia’s first Italian cafes and restaurants.

Schirato, Vittoria Food & Beverage managing director, shared an insight into the family business with Inside FMCG.

Inside FMCG: What’s the key focus for the company this year?

RS: The company is so diverse so there is always a lot on the horizon. We are involved in so many channels from cafes, hotels and restaurants through to grocery and across multiple products from coffee, water, tea through to cheese. If I could pick out one, I’m probably most excited about our increased focus on international expansion. We have been continuing to grow our position in the US with our own office and team based in LA, and are seeing strong results in Southeast Asia. We recently launched into China, setting up our own retail spaces in a market where coffee is starting to become very popular, particularly through online ordering and delivery.

Inside FMCG: How is Vittoria changing the coffee culture in Australia?

RS: We are proud to be recognised as beginning and pioneering the great Australian coffee industry which is recognised as one of the most advanced globally. We introduced true Italian style espresso to the country in the 50’s and we’re responsible for convincing Australian’s to brew coffee at home.

Everyone thought my old man was crazy when we he was trying to sell coffee to retailers in the 1980s. This was a time when Australia was [predominantly] a tea drinking nation due to UK influence. If it weren’t for his success in this channel, I can confidently say that coffee would not be as popular as it is today.

With over 60 years of roasting experience, we ensure that we stick to the fundamentals of roasting – and that is to purchase high grade coffee and roast consistently. However, we understand the coffee industry has changed and we must evolve alongside it. The industry has become increasingly competitive and our customers are becoming more interested in, and educated about coffee. We continue to innovate our offering, such as a rotating Single Origin program, currently featuring a Nicaraguan Maragogype – also known as “The Elephant Bean” which is one of the rarest coffee beans in the world.

Beyond this, we pride ourselves in our ability to truly partner with our customers. There is currently a lot of duplication in market, where roasters provide beans in a bag and a machine with little differentiation. We strive to learn what the needs are of our clients and through marketing we are able to provide solutions. Whether this be graphic design support, developing custom signage or activating spaces, right through to developing bespoke digital marketing and social influencer campaigns.

Rolando Schirato, Managing Director, & Les Schirato, CEO, of Vittoria Coffee & Food.

Inside FMCG: What trends do you expect to see in coffee in 2020?

RS: In our 60 years of roasting, we have seen a lot of trends come and go – but never more than what we have seen in the last decade. A few years ago, the most popular cafes were very simple cafes where sitting on milk crates was acceptable and the sign of a good barista was measured by the length of his hair. Now we are seeing café owners and operators elevating the overall experience for their customers. The most successful cafes now are the ones that have an established brand identity, a high quality and consistent offering that is unique, and are working with leading designers and architects to develop beautiful spaces.

I’m also seeing a clear trend in roasting. In recent times, coffee roasters began to roast their coffee lighter and introduce origins that produced distinctive flavour profiles. Although the results were interesting, it was not accessible to the everyday consumer that just wanted a good tasting coffee every day. Roasters are beginning to transition back to the more traditional flavour profiles for their everyday and house blends, whilst offering variability and uniqueness through a rotating single origin program.

I see sustainability continuing to grow in 2020 with a focus on reduction in single use coffee cup wastage. It is a shame [that] there is not truly sustainable and biodegradable paper [cups] or capsules offering (believe me, we’ve tried) so I hope to see a breakthrough in this space in 2020. I see venues that promote and endorse reusable cup programs experiencing good uptake with their customers.

Inside FMCG: Tell us how Vittoria Coffee promotes sustainability in the industry?

RS: We are committed to various initiatives that positively impact the environment and promote sustainability. We have been actively promoting initiatives to reduce single use wastage in coffee consumption. We are actively pushing our range of nine reusable cups via free giveaways and promotions through our foodservice network. We are about to launch a new Biodegradable and Compostable takeaway cup made from recycled materials and bamboo fibre lining.

The theme for our 2019 Fashion Week activation was sustainability. We used only reusable ceramic latte cups featuring fashion prints, which avoided over 8,000 takeaway cups making their way to landfills. Our bar, designed by Matt Woods was fully sustainable, with every brick being returned and re-purposed. We also activated a custom vending machine where gold coin donations were being collected for OzHarvest in exchange for a reusable ceramic cup.

We are a long-standing supporter of OzHarvest, an organisation that rescues excess food that would otherwise be discarded and delivers I to people in need. For every kilo of our organic coffee sold, A$1 is donated to Oz Harvest which equates to two meals. We align Rainforest Alliance due to its full circle approach. They teach farmers and their community sustainable farming practices to ensure the protection of ecosystems including wildlife habitat, water and soil.

Inside FMCG: What’s your best-selling product?

RS: Our most popular cafe blend and my personal favourite is Oro, which translates to gold in Italian. It is iconic and has become famous for its ability to consistently deliver a smooth and full flavoured coffee as an espresso or with milk. In grocery, our best seller is our Mountain Grown 1kg beans, one of our most premium retail blends. It is a blend of high altitude 100 per cent arabica beans roasted slightly darker to provide a full-strength coffee with a rich flavour profile.

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