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Melitta’s superautomatics for the people

From the October 2017 issue.

From hospitals to offices, and from super-yachts to the Arctic, Melitta’s superautomatic coffee machines continue to set the standard.

Melitta

"We have a saying here at Melitta,” says Oliver Welschar. “The lucky ones are the people selling dishwashers – because when they’ve done a deal, their work is over. For us, selling superautomatic coffee machines is completely different, because when we do a deal, the work has really only just started.”

Welschar, Melitta’s Head of Global Key Account Management and Customized Solutions, has a ready explanation for the difference. Coffee, he says only slightly tongue-in-cheek, has acquired near-religious overtones – and that passion for the brew often overrides the technology that is used to make the product.

“So I might be speaking to someone about the technical details of a machine and all of a sudden they swap and talk about which bean they prefer, and then it goes to the taste they prefer and the emotions of that,” he says. “That’s something you do not have with dishwashers.”

While people rarely get excited about how well their dishwasher cleans their plates and cutlery, “they are emotional about the brown colour of their crema.”

“In coffee you have this religious, emotional product – which is really just down to the laws of nature and physics and hydraulics – but people are believers about when it should be made, and in which order one should pour the milk and then the coffee, and which temperature, and the shape of the cup and everything,” he says.

For a company like Melitta – particularly Welschar’s division, which manages the business-to-business (B2B) side – this adds significant challenges to ensuring service excellence. After all, coffee is crucial to, for example, a hotel guest’s stay in a way that something like toast is not.

“If the toaster breaks down, then some people might complain. But coffee is a legal drug, so people are very keen to get it, so the pressure on the machines is always high,” he says. “And then with our other customers we are a money-maker – you can make good money from a coffee shop, and so that makes it very tricky for us because if a machine breaks down at seven in the morning then a coffee store could lose a whole day’s turnover.

Melitta’s Superautomatics
When it comes to Melitta’s superautomatics, its B2B customers have a solid range to choose from: the company has 10 superautomatics – which the company calls fully automatic coffee machines – and these range from the Cafina XT4, which can brew 150 espressos an hour, to the mighty Cafina Alpha-F, which can push out 500 cups of filter coffee in that time.

The variations lie within the range: some machines boast fully automatic cleaning or the ability to make drinks like cocoa, for instance, while an array of accessories such as coin dispensers, cashless payment systems, milk coolers and cup warmers rounds out the choice for even the most discerning customer.

Although variety is important, Welschar says, it is reliability that is essential. Indeed, Melitta, which remains privately owned and is headquartered in the German city of Minden, one of the founding cities of the medieval Hanseatic League, will not sell its products in a country until it has a good service partner established there. 

“We have excellent service, and that’s what we’re good at,” he says. “Like the elephant, where we are, we are strong.”

Melitta has a well-developed presence in dozens of countries including those in the EU, the US – where it is currently selling the most machines – as well as Japan and Australia. South America is growing too, and since 2011, when Melitta found its first partner in Dubai, it has sold hundreds of machines across the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

“From a business development perspective, I’m looking at turnover in three to five years, and this is everywhere between Iran and China – so, from Central to Far East Asia,” he says. “China is still a huge opportunity, and India is a sleeping giant where ‘only’ a minority of 200 million people are espresso drinkers.”

The company’s focus on self-sufficiency – it designs and manufactures all of its machines – means, he admits, that “we are not the fastest in the race”. However, that is in keeping with management’s ethos. If something grows fast, it breaks fast; better then to grow slowly.

“Today, the fourth generation is running the company. They want it to be around in another four generations,” he says.

This wariness explains why Melitta was not the first among its competitors to use telemetry on its machines; similarly, it was among the last to add “funky lighting”. That is not least down to the R&D department’s focus on ensuring that any changes made will create better quality coffee.

“Our zero level is the good cup of coffee, and we won’t go below that. Our machines have a lot of technical features to make sure every cup is a good cup,” he says. “Again, we’re like an elephant – we don’t run, but if we set down our foot, then we leave an imprint.”

The More Things Change
Melitta was founded nearly 110 years ago, a period that has seen vast changes in every facet of our lives – coffee-making included. Yet in all of that time, says Welschar, the essence of brewing good coffee hasn’t altered.

“Coffee beans are basically wood with a lot of aroma,” he says, “and so our machines are still grinding roasted wood in a machine which is working with interior temperatures of at least 50 degrees Celsius, and mixing that with water and fresh milk.”

But while the basics haven’t changed much – the ingredients, the need for pressure and heat – plenty around the business has: customer expectations for one. And today’s superautomatics are basically computers that can send data about their status and any faults over the internet, speeding up service time.

They can also ensure precision in the amount of coffee used in each cup. That is important now, Welschar says, and will become more so as rising demand for quality coffee is expected to push up prices. And they can serve many more customers and are much more efficient.

“So customers see savings in terms of coffee beans used, in terms of milk and water, and in terms of electricity,” he says.

In addition, the vast amounts of data generated by today’s machines can even be used for cross selling.

“So if the machine knows it’s 7am and the person buying is getting an espresso, then the machine could assume that the person is a male in his twenties, and could tell another machine to make a cheese roll – because it knows at this time of day those two products go together with that profile,” he says.

From Degrees Celsius to Degrees Latitude
Although Melitta’s machines are built to last, just how much life one gets out of a machine depends on a range of factors. The number of coffees made each day is one, but other aspects also count. UHT milk is easier on the machine than full-fat; and filtered water is better than reverse osmosis water.

“A machine should last at least five years, no matter how hard you treat her,” he says. “After 10 years, you have earned the money for the machine more than 20 times over.”

The convenience, cost and increasing quality of superautomatic coffee machines explains why they are so prevalent – from car parks to car dealerships, airports to harbours, offices to shopping centres. Indeed, he says, a better question than where can you find them is: Where can’t you find them? Melitta has machines on some of the world’s largest super-yachts.

“And we are currently regulars on the Canadian Northwest Shore on board the M/V Bella Désgagnes, a Canadian cargo and passenger ferry,” he says. “Before that, they were cruising the Arctic Sea, and they came to us and said, ‘we need something we can rely on when we are locked in the ice for three months’.”

It is this thrill of matching clients with Melitta’s products that keeps Welschar engaged.

“My reasons for joining seven years ago were simple. This is a global product, it’s a global company, and it makes a very innovative and well-engineered product and a lot of good cups of coffee every day,” he says.

“And as an engineer, what else can you ask for?” GCR

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