Coffee roasters win hard grind

By Christopher Adams

Stefan Marusich's Avalanche's Glacier blend was supreme winner at the New Zealand Coffee Awards. Photo / Natalie Slade
Stefan Marusich's Avalanche's Glacier blend was supreme winner at the New Zealand Coffee Awards. Photo / Natalie Slade

For Stefan Marusich and Paul Tobin being fired from their jobs at Telecom was a step in the right direction.

It motivated the pair to become self-employed and eventually establish their award-winning company, Avalanche Coffee, in 2001.

Avalanche's Glacier blend was named Supreme Winner at the recent New Zealand Coffee Awards, ahead of 300 other coffees blind tasted by judges.

Marusich said Avalanche, which was roasted in Kelston, had become the fastest growing fresh coffee brand in New Zealand supermarkets over the last 18 months.

"According to some of the sales data I've seen [Avalanche] certainly are performing very well," said New Zealand Coffee Roasters Association president Tony Kerridge.

Marusich, now 32, said he and Tobin were the top performing salesmen at Telecom in the late 1990s.

A failure to comply with the telco's "structures" resulted in them receiving their marching orders, he said.

"At the time we'd just left uni and were not really cut out for working for other people. It sort of made us get out and do our own thing ... in hindsight it was the best thing that could have happened to us."

Doing their own thing first involved setting up a business that supplied water coolers to companies.

With no backup capital they were flying by the seat of their pants.

"We made a few sales and ended up having to get payment up front to go and buy the water coolers," Marusich said. Within two years the water cooler business had around 400 customers and was sold to Just Water for a significant profit, enabling Marusich and Tobin to set up Avalanche Coffee.

For the first six years they focused on supplying cafes and restaurants with roasted beans before developing a supermarket brand around three years ago. Breaking into the cut-throat supermarket coffee trade was challenging, Marusich said.

He said having a Fair Trade organic blend gave Avalanche the point of difference it needed to gain access to the shelves of stores belonging to both Progressive Enterprises and Foodstuffs.

"Our strategy was to produce a Fair Trade organic coffee that tasted good at an affordable price - you're not going to pay a premium for it."

Marusich said Avalanche also benefited from being established before the boom in coffee start-ups five years ago.

"These days you see a lot of [coffee] brands start up and then six months later they disappear." he said. "If you're not well established now you'd find it pretty tough to get any customer base."

Kerridge said being able to "service the market" was a major challenge for many small coffee companies wanting to break into the supermarket trade.

"If you're a small coffee roaster doing 200 kilos a week you may not have the ability to scale up," he said.

Kerridge said boutique roasteries also found it difficult to increase quantity while not compromising quality.

There were around 40 fresh coffee brands available in New Zealand supermarkets, he said, although 10 - including Avalanche - accounted for 80 per cent of sales.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a2 at 18 Sep 2014 22:33:20 Processing Time: 761ms