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Nuova Simonelli’s success in South Korea

From the July 2017 issue.

Nuova Simonelli’s espresso machines have set the standard for innovation and consistency in South Korea’s burgeoning specialty coffee scene.

Nuova Simonelli

The chances of finding a café with a proper espresso machine in South Korea in the early noughties were slim-to-none, but you’d hardly guess it taking a casual stroll through Seoul these days.

The country’s capital has gone through a coffee revolution, illustrated by the elaborate specialty brews found in almost every café, and that’s in no small part thanks to the introduction of Nuova Simonelli’s world-famous espresso machines.

“Nuova Simonelli came in first to the coffee scene in Korea, when the Korean coffee market started,” says Jong Hoon Lee, CEO of the firm’s South Korea division.

That was way back in 1994 and for many years growth was slow. But this early entry laid the foundation for Nuova Simonelli to take a commanding position as market leader once it ignited.

The spark came in 2006 when a surge in coffee consumption began that would see a six-fold increase in the number of coffee houses by 2011 and more than 17,000 cafés in Seoul alone by 2015. And it was clear that a global fad in specialty coffees requiring highly accurate instruments was driving growth in South Korea, too.

“In recent years (I think around 2009), the specialty coffee scene in Korea started growing; people were getting more interested in good coffee and good machines.”

Lee was part of a Nuova Simonelli team dedicated to bringing the rich aroma of coffee to a completely untested consumer base, and he says it was hard at first.

Part of the problem in those early days was that the market was already dominated by another product.

The act of drinking tea in South Korea is a cherished cultural experience that has significance beyond the mere act of consumption.

It’s a daily ritual that allows one to retreat from the world of outward material imperfection and turn inward to a calming search for harmony and balance.

This ancient cultural pillar of Korean society has spurned the creation of richly diverse teas brewed from ingredients such as dried jujube, green plum, chrysanthemum, corn, roasted rice crust, yulma, barley and “the five flavoured berry” Omija.

The success of adapting coffee to such a culture was always going to rest on two things – creating environments to serve it in that appealed to this unique South Korean aesthetic paired with a diversity and inventiveness of caffeine creations to bring to the market.

To that end, Lee and his team began collaborating on their marketing directly with the local vendors who had taken on Nuova Simonelli machines. It was a smart tactic.

Big, multinational chain vendors with their established marketing strategies might have the advantage of instant brand recognition, but they struggle to adapt to the fine nuances of such a culture.

So, while only some of the very biggest names such as Starbucks and Paul Bassett Korea have been able to carve out strong market positions, smaller, local franchises have flourished by striking a balance in this unusual hot bed of thriving capitalism and restrained mindfulness.

Since 2012, Koreans above the age of 20 have increased their coffee consumption by an average annual rate of 7 per cent, according to the report by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corp.

On average, South Koreans drank more than one cup of coffee a day last year.

To harness this rapid growth, Lee hit the local food and beverage expo scene, making sure attendees understood that in traditional markets, Nuova Simonelli (NS) was considered the best.

“It was strongly acknowledged by consumers that famous shops in other countries used [Nuova Simonelli] and NS came out with stand-alone booths in exhibitions,” he says.

It also helped that Nuova Simonelli machines, particularly their flagship line Aurelia, were so far beyond their competitors in function and quality.

“Since Aurelia was first introduced in Korea, consumer perceptions began to change,” Lee says.

“I think the important thing is the role of the machine in the specialty coffee market.”

Nuova Simonelli engineers flew out to Seoul to show vendors exactly how Aurelia outperformed its rivals, highlighting features such as its Soft Infusion System that guarantees a soft and creamy espresso and its incredibly accurate temperature controls.

Then there was its flexibility – allowing baristas to adjust both the height and the temperature of every single group to suit any use and blend.

Of course, in terms of demonstrating the quality of the machines, it wasn’t a hard sell.

The Aurelia had already been used as the World Barista Championship (WBC) official espresso machine from 2009 to 2011.

Nuova Simonelli’s Marketing Director Maurizio Giuli says Aurelia’s intelligent features such as automatic wash, electronic grinding check and double count brewing were key reasons judges felt the machine was outstanding.

“The choice came after a technical selection of equipment and Aurelia was found to be the machine more consistent in terms of extraction and more easy to use for the barista,” he says.

Things have moved on since then with the introduction of Aurelia II, which took straight over from where its old cousin had left off, winning the same WBC award from 2012 to 2014.

Aurelia II took espresso machine evolution to the next level, introducing functionality like T3 technology, which establishes new reference standards for temperature accuracy in water supply by offering three different control parametres: water, group and steam.

“In the last 20 years, NS invested a lot in terms of innovation. We’ve worked hard with universities and research centres in order to get a deeper knowledge about the chemical and physical reaction of coffee during the brewing phase,” Giuli says.

“Thanks to these studies and researches we’ve been able to introduce some very innovative technologies, such as SIS (Soft Infusion System), T3 Technology (perfect control of brewing water temperature) and Clima-pro (control of temperature during the grinding phase).”

The ability to exercise fine grain control over temperature parametres by group has been particularly valuable in a market like South Korea, where specialty coffees have taken off and baristas constantly need to pump out a vast array of different coffee styles.  GCR

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