• QA 029
    How to approach the Italian market?
    We want to diversify into Italy to take advantage of the strong demand for gourmet and espresso coffee in which robusta is used. We have sent samples to various roasters but mostly receive negative or no responses.
    Asked by:
    Exporter - Madagascar

    The Italian market differs in many ways from other consuming countries: there are more than 1,500 roasters divided in 3 groups by size. The first group  consists of 5 to 10  large roasters who operate nationally and inter-nationally (Some of these are Lavazza, Segafredo-Zanetti, Jacobs-Suchard, Illycaffè and Coind). In the second group there are about 50 medium sized regional roasters while in the third there are all the other small local roasters (with new companies entering the market all the time).

    30% of the imported coffee is robusta, normally highly selected, with few or no taste defects. Exporting to Italy requires very careful selection of clean cupping qualities.

    Italian roasters are quite conservative when considering changing the characteristics of an Espresso blend. A typical Italian blend will change regionally (North, Centre, South) and is well defined. This is achieved by using various proportions of different origins. For example with a mainly natural arabica blend, or with robusta mixed with an acidic washed arabica. The final decision will be based mainly on cup characteristics, combined with bean size which is also important. Any 'new' coffee has to be evaluated not only on these criteria but especially also in terms of what it may do to improve the quality of a blend.

    You do not say whether you are proposing to sell natural or washed robusta: if you can offer good quality washed robusta (well prepared, clean cupping with good body and some flavour) then the chances of success will be much higher - there is always interest in such coffees, not only in Italy but also in Japan. But, natural arabicas and robustas with a clean cup make up the majority of Italian imports so the market for naturals is there.

    The make-up of the Italian market makes it imperative to link up with an importer if you wish to be able to access the huge number of medium and small roasters. Not only because of logistical reasons but also because the vast majority of smaller roasters buy from importers (sometimes already prepared blends which the importer sources on their behalf). A well-established importer has easy access to such buyers and can promote coffees on your behalf, something you will not find easy to do (as you already have experienced - many Italian roasters simply do not deal direct with origin). One way to 'ease' your coffee into the market would be to arrange cup-tasting sessions for a demonstration of your coffee. Another could be to provide samples to many, many roasters followed by trial deliveries of a few bags to those who show interest. But such initiatives are only feasible with the help of an importer.

    For more on Quality generally go to 11.00. For more on Espresso itself go to 12.09.04 and 12.09.05. For contacts in the Italian market try contacting info@asscafe.it, the Associazione Caffè Trieste. The European Specialty Coffee Association maintains a Europe-wide membership directory at www.scae.com but, you have to be a member to access this. (secretary@scae.com )

    Posted 13 July 2005

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