Mihaela Hoffman, Coca-Cola HBC Romania: Consumers’ tastes for coffee are changing at an accelerated rate

Oana Vasiliu 10/10/2022 | 18:12

At the end of September, one of the recently acquired brands of Coca-Cola HBC, Caffe Vergnano, an established Italian brand, has celebrated its 140 anniversary. Mihaela Hoffman, Coffee & Premium Spirits Business Director, Coca-Cola HBC Romania talked with BR about how this legendary Italian premium brand is making its steps in the Romanian market.

By Oana Vasiliu


With the acquisition of a 30% shareholding in Caffè Vergnano in October 2021, Coca-Cola HBC is addressing the significant growth opportunities in the coffee category by offering a total coffee portfolio aimed at a diverse range of consumer preferences and customer needs. In Q1 2022, Coca-Cola HBC started exclusive distribution of Caffè Vergnano in its first markets, Romania included.

Coca-Cola HBC’s Caffè Vergnano offering includes a premium, high-quality coffee portfolio consisting of traditional espresso in various blends, packages and formats such as beans, roast and ground coffee, and single portioned pods.

 Espresso is a form of living in Italy, but locally, studies show that Romanian prefer large pots of coffee or infused with steamed milk. What’s Caffè Vergnano’s approach to the local market?

Long time ago, Caffè Vergnano`s founders started this business with the idea to spread, promote and grow the culture of coffee. This is how the brand has been approaching each stage of evolution and every market it has entered, Romania included. For Caffè Vergnano, coffee preparation is an art to be mastered, a ritual from the past that lives on across places and generations and a simple pleasure but with the power to awaken intense feelings.

 In Romania, we have this trend regarding specialty coffee – hundreds of coffee shops with cool names and hipsterishly attitude which offer good vibes to passers by. What do you feel sets Caffè Vergnano apart from the others?

Caffè Vergnano is specialized in the selection and roasting of Green Coffee and always believed in the selection and care of each coffee bean. Before buying the green coffee, a sample is sent to the Turin office where they know exactly what the different origins of the coffee must be, so they try it out personally and decide whether to proceed with the order.

Pietro Vergnano, fourth generation of Vergnano family, personally chooses only the best coffee beans, with a view to commercial sustainability and a guarantee of continuity. It is he himself who makes sure that all the raw materials used, in every phase of processing and in the final products, comply with the quality and safety standards required by national regulations and specific laws. A balanced product is created, with a delicate taste and a rounded aroma, which derives from the slow roasting of the best varieties of coffee.

Other peculiarity is that Caffè Vergnano’s coffee is slowly roasted. Since coffee beans vary a lot in shape and size depending on their origin, roasting must be carefully controlled. This process is carried out according to a traditional method, much slower than industrial processes, which allows the beans to cook evenly all the way.

Furthermore, the packaging in a protective atmosphere guarantees the fragrance of the coffee, keeps the coffee fresh and allows it to be kept for longer. The roasting of blends, performed individually for each single origin, allows Caffè Vergnano to apply the optimal roasting profile to each coffee, to enhance its aromatic potential, to allow its correct development and ensure that, once blended, they can give their peculiar notes in the complexity of harmonious and unique bouquet.

Do you feel like locally the café business played out? If so, where will you find future growth?

Consumers’ tastes for coffee are changing more and more and at an accelerated rate, which opens the way to numerous innovations in terms of flavors, preparation and serving methods, packaging, and consumption occasions.

When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in early 2020, coffee shops were among the first to close, however, over time, coffee shops found ways of adapting to the new landscape to continue serving their customers, some ramped up their takeaway offerings, while others set up online sales. At the same time, during pandemics, consumer behavior changed in the form of a shift towards home coffee consumption. In Romania as well as all over the world, consumers tried to replicate at home a barista and coffee shop experience. Now, as restrictions are lifted and coffee shops reopen, the question is whether these trends are here to stay or if out-of-home coffee consumption will return to pre-pandemic levels and café businesses will be again back on the rise.

In terms of coffee quality, are the Romanian B2B owners interested in organic and Fairtrade products?

Lately, we are seeing greater attention being paid to the origin, quality and certifications accompanying coffee varieties

 Caffè Vergnano stands for Women in Coffee. How do you translate this type of women empowerment in Romania?

Women in Coffee is a key Caffè Vergnano social responsibility project. Launched in 2018 in collaboration with the International Women Coffee Alliance (ICWA), it aims to sustain small communities of female coffee producers.

We strongly advocate for women empowerment in coffee and although in Romania we do not have such communities of female coffee producers, we offer our support to the entire coffee industry.

Our coffee ambassador is Cezara Carteș, Romanian national champion in barista competition, who provides training for other women working in the coffee industry in Romania, sharing knowledge and helping build a larger women coffee community.

What’s the most important lesson you learned while working with the Caffè Vergnano brand?

As a personal lesson, I would say that I have learned that working with coffee requires patience. The perfect blend takes time and in this business is important to take that time and not rush on paths already taken by others.

I am honored by the responsibility to pass on the legacy of Vergnano family, so passionate about preserving the traditional method of roasting coffee and to spread, promote and grow the culture of authentic Italian espresso, which true coffee connoisseurs have appreciated and recognized at Caffè Vergnano for over a century.

In Italy and other European cities, there are Caffè Vergnano coffee shops. Are you planning to expand the portfolio with the brand’s location?

In Romania, Caffè Vergnano is already available in HoReCa locations, in selected retail stores and online. You can experience the perfect Caffè Vergnano Italian espresso in more than 100 locations in Romania and our ambition is to grow our presence by working with our partners to provide the best Italian espresso to Romanian consumers.

How do you support the legacy of other brands Coca-Cola HBC acquired, namely Caffè Vergnano?

Caffè Vergnano is a valuable, long-established premium brand which now benefits from Coca-Cola HBC’s business expertise and team dedication to distribute the brand in all our partners’ locations. Coca-Cola HBC has a great responsibility to enhance the legacy of Vergnano family, to pass on their passion for slowly coffee roasting to Romanian consumers, a ritual based on from generations, such a simple pleasure that can be found in the perfect Italian espresso.

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