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Miko Coffee’s perfect equation

From the July 2017 issue.

By leveraging partnerships and improving existing innovation, Miko seeks to build on the expertise of each player in the equation.

Miko CEO Frans Von Tilborg

Although Belgium-based Miko Coffee has been in the coffee business longer than Belgium has been a country, the 216-year-old company knows it wouldn’t be anywhere without the machinery and devices that actually turn its roasts into a consumable beverage.

Over the years, Miko has been putting an increasing emphasis on coffee and espresso machines for the out-of-home coffee market.

As such, coffee machines receive near equal real estate to coffee itself on the company website. Visitors to the site can peruse a number of recommended commercial espresso machines, grinders and self-serve dispensers, such as those from Eversys, Fiorenzato and Cafinette, as well as Miko-branded equipment.

“Obviously our focus is coffee, but the machine is a means to sell our whole product,” says CEO Frans Van Tilborg. “Machines are absolutely crucial for us – it’s a marriage of great coffee with great machines.”

That “marriage” comes at a time when consumers are demanding both quality and convenience in their coffee. As such, both commercial and consumer coffee machines are increasingly being innovated and digitised to achieve those desires.

It’s no surprise to hear, then, that the relatively young global smart coffee maker industry is forecast to grow 38.8 per cent per year on average during the next five years, according to market research firm TechNavio.

Similarly, the global commercial coffee maker market is seeing an “influx of new models with better controls and features,” reports TechNavio, such as Bluetooth technology, waste-reduction and energy-savings features, digital interfaces, internet connectivity and eco-friendly materials.

Miko CEO Frans Von Tilborg

Finer with age
Miko’s story began in 1801, when Leo Michielsen opened up a colonial market in Belgium, where he sold exotic spices, tea, pepper and coffee. By the turn of the 20th century, the Michielsen family had narrowed its focus from the store to coffee and opened Miko Roastery – the new name combining “Michielsen” and “koffie.”

Within a short time, Miko was buying and roasting coffee from all over the world, which was made relatively easy by the roastery’s proximity to the Port of Antwerp.

Today, Miko still buys its coffee from various growing regions but it strategically blends the roasts depending on the buyer.

“We’re in 12 countries now, so we blend accordingly depending on who needs our coffee,” Van Tilborg tells Global Coffee Report. “For instance, Greeks like coffee very different from Norwegian people.”

Miko has continued to evolve over the years based on its customers’ needs and what the market demands.

In 2005, the Michielsen family shifted its focus again, not away from coffee but toward what the future of coffee needed.

Miko launched its Puro Coffee brand, its first Fairtrade-certified coffee and one that incorporated environmental and sustainability initiatives. Working alongside the World Land Trust, Puro uses profit generated from the sale of each bag of coffee to buy and protect areas of rainforest in South America.

“One of our biggest responses to the market, which was very early on, was the Puro Coffee line,” says Van Tilborg. The associated initiatives were extremely well received, and the coffee itself “became very successful in the European market.”

Through the project, Miko has helped save almost 13,000 hectares of rainforest through nine Puro Rainforest Reserves in seven coffee-producing countries. The project has also expanded outside of South America to Malaysian Borneo.

Through the Puro brand, Miko has also launched community projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa.

Perfection with partnerships
With more than a century focused on coffee roasting, it’s safe to say Miko knows a thing or two about making good coffee. But as Van Tilborg says, its roasts wouldn’t be anything without the means to turn them into consumable beverages. While the company strives to be at the forefront of “initiative and innovation,” Van Tilborg is first to clarify that a lot of innovation is in simply improving current technologies.

“There’s no need to reinvent the wheel,” he says. “We don’t have a huge budget for research and development, so we depend a lot on machine innovation that comes from our suppliers. Innovation with us has been with brands.”

One example is its partnership with commercial espresso machine maker Eversys. The companies have been working together for a few years, and several of the Swiss manufacturer’s machines are profiled on Miko’s website.

Eversys prides itself on its innovative “super automatic” espresso machines that streamline the entire bean-to-cup process: grinding, brewing, dispensing and even creating microfoam for the perfect latte art.

All internal components of its eBarista line are modular, making repairs quick and simple in a busy, high-volume coffee shop where any downtime means lost revenue. Each module can easily be removed and replaced, without having to decommission and replace the entire machine.

“We investigated several bean-to-cup coffee machines,” Van Tilborg tells GCR, “and our choice for the Belgium market was Eversys because of its innovative modular system.”

The super automatic machines are also technologically advanced, with intuitive digital interfaces to program the perfect cup. Additionally, usage stats and custom reporting can be accessed via LAN connection to use for future decision-making and strategy.

Lastly, the patent-pending eClean technology simplifies daily washes through a laser-guided automatic cleaning tablet distribution system.

While some critics may argue that automatic and smart coffee makers like Eversys’ are slowly eliminating the job of the barista, Miko sees the barista as a key component in that aforementioned marriage of world-class coffee and world-class machinery. As such, the company dedicates significant resources to barista training programs, a service that is also prominently promoted on the website: “We believe that the best coffee is produced by people who appreciate its complexities.”

Miko understands that, with or without automatic and smart coffee machines, the barista is essential to the success of its coffee: “Customers with a finely-tuned taste for high-quality coffee will notice a dip in excellence and not waver in rebuffing the cup, nor will they hesitate to seek another coffee provider,” the training webpage reads. “Coffee is a competitive business. Customer loyalty is key. Our training will ensure that a barista’s ability to please a customer will become an undeviating skill.”

To stay competitive and keep Miko Coffee top of mind among coffee drinkers, “we need to continuously improve the know-how of our technicians,” adds Van Tilborg.

Growth through strategy
Although Miko won’t be reinventing any wheels, the company will continue to leverage partnerships to innovate and expand.

“The reason that we have existed more than 200 years is that we always work step by step,” the CEO explains. “In doing that, we hope to keep expanding Europe – maybe through acquisitions.” In June 2016, parent company Miko Group acquired Smiling Faces AB, a Swedish operator that focuses on coffee service solutions for midsize and large clients in the office coffee service market.

During the past four years, Miko Coffee has been strategically focused on Scandinavia for its strong coffee culture and economic strength. Since the initial decision, acquisitions have been made in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The acquisition is in line with the group’s long-term strategy to continue to roll out an international coffee service organisation through its own subsidiaries in various  countries.

“We want to be here in another 200 years,” says Van Tilborg. “We don’t need to be the biggest; we just want to be the best.” GCR

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