Inside Retail: Vittoria recently had a fairly sizeable presence at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week. Can you tell me about that?
Rolando Schirato: Sure. It was part of a broader campaign around fashion, and the dates of Fashion Week kicked it off for us. But every year, we have a fairly central spot within Fashion Week, and we set up a different espresso bar experience. This year, we had a bar that we built that had a huge, gold, glitter wall behind it, which basically ended up being the main point of congregating for most people at Fashion Week – coffee brings everyone together, as we all know. Everyone comes together for the more social element of Fashion Week, so it’s kind of cool to be one of the central points of the event.
In terms of the actual activation at the event, we do a few different things around that bar concept. We had a vending machine where you could buy ceramic keep cups with a number of designers’ prints on them, and you could get your name engraved on them onsite. We didn’t take any of the money from that, the money there went to OzHarvest, they’re a long-term charity partner of ours.
Those cups are always a really central theme, not only at the event, but also through our trade [business]. Each year, we change all of our takeaway cups and launch the ceramic range with different prints from the different designers that we work with for that year.
And this year, we also launched a ‘fashion-series’ blend, which is going into Woolworths as a Nespresso-compatible capsule line, which will also be featuring the designers’ prints and a limited-edition blend that we’ve constructed at our roastery.
[Editor’s note: The designers Vittoria worked with in 2022 were Iordanes Spyridongogos, MacGraw, Venroy, We Are Kindred, Rachel Gilbert and Alice McCall.]
IR: Tell me a bit about what it’s like for Vittoria to work with these artists to create the ceramic cups?
RS: We’ve done it for the last 10 years or so. We select around five or six designers, some of whom we’ve worked with before and some who are new, and we feature the designs and prints that they’re launching for Fashion Week. So it kind of works like a pre-release look at their design aesthetic.
We take the designs that will work best in the context of being printed on a cup, and push them across different assets within our business: the ceramic cups, our takeaway cup, capsules, etc.
The designers love it because they get their brand and designs into the hands of consumers, and it definitely helps get their seasonal fashion designs out there, and we time it around Fashion Week. Sometimes, we also talk to the designers around their inspirations for the collections for that season, and this year we did a thing where we taught the designers how to make coffee and had a little friendly competition to create some engagement with their audience.
IR: Those cups were available at Fashion Week. Are they available anywhere else?
RS: They’re about to launch on our website, and in the past we’ve also used them as a gift-with-purchase on specific offers that we’ve brought to the market, so we’ll be looking at that this year as well. We could also offer them for Vittoria customers through loyalty points, where you can start to redeem sets of these cups.
IRIFMCG: I did want to ask you about your e-commerce offer. I think most people associate Vittoria with your trade business, but you do have a direct-to-consumer side as well. Can you tell us about that?
RS: We have a pretty extensive range of products on the Vittoria website, but what’s probably unique about our consumer proposition is that we also sell our food-service blends: They’re the blends that we sell only to restaurants.
We didn’t sell them at all through our direct-to-consumer originally, they were just for our trade partners, but during the Covid-19 pandemic, we made them available through the website, and that’s been well received by our customers.
And then the website has a focus not just on coffee, but on accessories as well. There are different ranges of cups and [machines], and other items that we sell in our range of products.
IR: You just touched on one way Covid-19 impacted the business. Can you talk me through how the last few years have shifted the way Vittoria does business?
RS: I think, like everyone, when Covid-19 hit, parts of our business suffered, particularly our food-service business, for obvious reasons. There was no tourism, so the five-star hotels that we supplied weren’t as busy as they regularly are, the cafes that we supplied were struggling, and people weren’t flying so the lounges we supplied were empty.
A very big part of our business wasn’t operating at its full capacity, and it essentially gave us the time to focus on new revenue streams or things that we had in the plans but hadn’t had the time to focus on.
Online was definitely one of those. We had an online presence, but it wasn’t a huge priority for us because our products were already distributed pretty broadly already. It was just one of those things that we weren’t giving enough attention to [pre-Covid], so online became a big focus for us.
And though our trade business was struggling, coffee consumption didn’t go down, it just shifted to the home. A lot of our customers that were used to enjoying our coffee in different contexts were now drinking from home, so we saw a lot of growth in our retail partners’ online businesses, as well as our own.
We looked at a range of propositions for online customers, we introduced things like subscriptions to our website, which has been really successful.
We’re actually about to relaunch our Vittoria website to make it a much more engaging shopping experience, so that’ll come to market in the next few months.
We also launched the brand into a few new categories. We bought equipment to be able to produce our own coffee bags, which we are now making locally, which has been a really interesting category and we’ve managed to see some growth there.
We got into instant coffee, and that’s been hugely successful, especially in a category where the traditional market leaders are some of the biggest companies in the world, which probably haven’t been challenged significantly in a very, very long time. Our entry has been well received and the growth is continuing, and in the coming months you’ll see an expansion of that.
Right at the start of Covid, we were the first company in Australia to implement a Nespresso-compatible capsule made from aluminium. We had technicians from Italy coming to Australia to help us implement these new lines. They were almost blocked from entering the country, but they managed to get in at the last minute and we were able to install a really large production line, and do a pretty large exclusive launch with Woolworths.
It was something we hadn’t planned on, but it ended up being a really good time to launch it because of the increases in at-home consumption.
These were largely things that we were exploring before the pandemic, but Covid-19 was the catalyst to bring them forward and get them into the market as soon as possible, to address the huge change in coffee consumption we were seeing.
It allowed us to explore different avenues. A lot of the time in business, you might not get to something as quickly as you should, or it’s difficult to get to because the business is in full swing, and when people are busy they tend to let things fly past them. So Covid-19 really bought us a little bit of time to take a step back and look at the market and the opportunities we had, and try to address them.
We’ve launched a pretty significant expansion of our decaf offer. We’ve always had a pretty strong decaf presence, and it [contributed] a huge amount of growth during Covid, so we’ve met that need by making more decaf options available across the different sub-categories that we play in.
We also developed a specific blend that works very well with plant-based milk. Plant-based milk has been around for a long time. Soy milk was the big guy, and then almond milk challenged it, and now it’s oat milk, and there are a number of others. But coffee reacts differently to plant-based milks than to dairy-based milk. Some blends can curdle with it, and it changes the taste profile quite significantly, so we crafted a blend that mitigates that.
At the end of the day, our aim is to make sure we are providing customers with the best quality coffee in the format in which they like to enjoy it. So if we’re not available in all the different sub-categories of coffee, then we’re not really serving our customers to the full potential.
IR: Tell me a bit about the website relaunch. What did you learn about online over the pandemic, and how are you improving the experience?
RS: We were amateurs in e-commerce, to be fair, and our website was built as an education tool so our customers could learn about what we do as a company and as a brand. It was very content rich, which is very relevant and important, but the primary reason most people are visiting your website these days is to make a transaction.
So, we had to change the whole philosophy of the experience of the website. We had to create a shopping experience, and make it as convenient as we could for the customer from the moment they landed on the site – just the basics, like making the site easy to navigate and find what you’re looking for.
We wanted to take customers on a journey, while still providing information about the brand and products to help them to make the right purchase. So for us it was all about making it as seamless an experience as possible for customers who want to transact with us, but also learn about what we do or what they’re purchasing, in the most efficient way.
I think many websites, including ours until we relaunch it, overestimate how much time and effort people want to spend on your site.
It’s very important to us that the site does what it’s supposed to do, but a busy consumer who lands on your site just wants to be met with an easy experience that gives them the information they want, and lets them transact and ultimately receive a product that meets their expectations in the shortest amount of time possible .
That relates to not only your site, but also the logistics and supply chain, and the unboxing experience, and all these different things that we think about. We’ve been selling products for over 70 years, and this is just a different approach and mindset to selling than we’ve done before.
The thing with online is that it’s constant – it’s live every day, all day, and it’s changing. The strategy isn’t just to get a product ranged somewhere and then run a promotional program and that’s it. The online environment is constantly changing, and what worked yesterday might not work today. It’s living and breathing, and you really need to set your business up to be able to support that.
For example, we run the logistics across most of our business, but for e-commerce, sometimes we utilise partners that specialise in direct-to-consumer fulfilment. There have been a lot of lessons, and I imagine there’ll be more to come.
IR: Beyond online, what is Vittoria focusing on in the coming year?
RS: We’ve done very well in instant coffee since launching that. We were bullish on our expectations, and it met them handily. We brought our brand to a category that we felt was underserved in terms of options, and we’re expanding on that range now, into some of the biggest subcategories within instant coffee. We’re really excited about that, it’s a huge opportunity for us.
And we’re focusing on a continual improvement on what we’re already doing. There’ve been so many changes in the coffee market, it’s constantly evolving, there are new trends and new ways of drinking coffee, so we’re focused on making sure we’re evolving our product and our offer to meet the market’s expectations.
This story originally appeared in the July issue of Inside FMCG magazine.