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Theta Ridge Coffee

Soluble Strengths:
Quality & Convenience

By Alexis Rubinstein

There is a stigma surrounding soluble coffee. While it may be the fan favorite for one particular demographic, recently it has been overlooked and under-acknowledged by younger generations. Today, soluble coffee producers are improving on the product and its reputation.

Soluble coffee manufacturers are springing up just about everywhere these days. If you are looking to supply soluble coffee, private label or otherwise, one of the many manufacturers can help you chose the right product for the right price.

“Elcafe C.A., a Noboa Group’s company established in 1978, with two industrial plants strategically located in Guayaquil and Manta, is the major soluble coffee exporter of Ecuador and one of the major producers of freeze-dried soluble coffee in Latin America,” says Lorena Vasquez, marketing and communication director for the company. “Elcafe C.A. leads the soluble coffee market in Ecuador, accounting for 35% of total market share. Our company manufactures the most recognized brands like Pres2, Si Café and Expreso y Montecristi Freeze dried, brands that have been preferred by Ecuadorian consumers from generation to generation.” Vasquez also notes that Elcafe’s products are also exported to several countries, mainly Poland, Russia, Germany and England. She adds, “Elcafe C.A. has considerably invested over the last years in order to optimize and renovate its processing plants. This investment has allowed us to increase the production and bring high technology in the process. Our company’s current production in both plants is 1.500 soluble coffee tons per month.”

Heading even further south to Colombia, Buencafe has the distinct advantage of using Colombia’s own premium beans for their product. “Buencafe 100% Freeze Dried Coffee (Formerly known as Freeze Dried Coffee Factory) was built in 1973 by the National Federation Coffee Growers of Colombia to cater the most demanding customers in all the corners of the globe,” says company director, Constanza Mejia. “Since the beginning, Buencafe has been driven by quality, innovation and social responsibility helping it to become the most important source of social development of the department of Caldas, Colombia.” Mejia continues, “Currently we have a capacity of producing more than 11,000 metric tons of pure 100% Colombian Freeze Dried Coffee. Buencafe complies with the most demanding quality standards in the industry. Today we can proudly say that our Freeze Dried Colombian Coffee is consumed by the most demanding consumer in more than 60 countries around the world.”

While Ecuador and Colombia have certainly perfected the process of manufacturing instant coffee, it is the Europeans who claim first rights. “Independent, self-confident and with a staff of approximately 680 loyal employees HACO maintains its position in an increasingly globalized market,” says the company. “The company is known for individual and innovative food products. Within a record time we develop tailor-made products and services for various customer requirements and distribute them worldwide. In 1945 we were the pioneers in the extraction of pure coffee taste and the production of soluble coffee and still today we are a leader in coffee processing technology. While the basic principle of coffee extraction is rather simple the technological background however is most sophisticated. The objective is to gain only the most valuable coffee flavors free of any undesirable ingredients.” With their vision and wherewithal, HACO set the bar for other companies following in its footsteps.

More of a newcomer, European-based VIVA coffee has entered the soluble market in the more specialized sector of private label. “The origins of VIVA Coffee date back to 2006, when a number of experienced, like-minded seasoned soluble coffee professionals came together to start a very different kind of soluble coffee manufacturer focusing exclusively on the private label sector in Germany, eastern Europe, Russia and beyond,” says Isabel Kretschmer, marketing manager. “We have started up a new company and built a brand new facility on a green field, equipped with the most innovative technology in this business.” According to the company, “our business principles are based on four pillars: value, innovation, variety and advantage, each pillar representing our unique approach to your private label needs. As the newest member in the coffee world, we provide a modern solution built through the foundations of our origins in manufacturing and trade.” Kretschmer also adds, “We combine traditional roasting with state of the art freeze drying. The result is an extremely effective production process, high quality products and very competitive rates. The total capacity will reach 4.500 to of FD coffee per year.”

Sustainably Soluble
Sustainable practices can be implemented at multiple steps throughout the production process. Whether a soluble coffee manufacturers uses only organic beans, has a eco-friendly facility or uses recycled packaging, this information should be transferred to your customer and made a priority industry-wide.

“Our cutting edge production plant at VIVA is designed to meet professional demands,” says Kretschmer. “At the same time, we combine economy and ecology to the highest possible degree. Materials, which in earlier times were disposed of as waste, are now collected and recycled. Our innovative technology enables us to offer the shortest possible development cycles, flexible production units and sustained high quality, driving our core values forward to fruition. Successful and sustainable brands require a product of consistent quality. Yet the product is only the basis and our unique service provides opportunities for further growth and development.”

Elcafe is committed to fulfill all the standards established by National Legislation’s concerning water discharge, gas emissions, air control, noise reduction and hazardous solid waste, in order to protect the ecosystem. According to Vasquez, the company aims to “Promote high productivity in the Ecuadorian coffee farms through self sustainability and traceability of green coffee by developing technological packages to enhance the productivity of the coffee growers in the different Ecuadorian micro-climates as an additional effort to differentiate our products. This reinforces our compromise and our social responsibility as Elcafe to reestablish productivity and investigation in the field.” She continues, “A sustainable farm will replace the natural nutrients of the land by spreading fertilizers and organic matter (composted coffee pulp) under the coffee trees and between the coffee trees. This type of fertilization has been found to increase yields over time and to produce a more uniform and natural mineral content in the ground. Sustainable farms will also engage in practices such as shade growing, bio diversification, organic farming, and sustainable agriculture. We also aim that farm workers are treated with respect and that they have access to clean water, medical care and education for themselves and their families. Through better farm management, farmers are helped to improve quality, control production costs and access more financial and technical services; thus learning to compete in the global economy and achieve better incomes and more sustainable livelihoods.”

“Our production sites are periodically audited according to the quality management (ISO 9001 or ISO 22000) through an accredited certifying partner,” says HACO. “Regarding our CH-manufacturing sites, we dispose of a certification accepted by one of the Global Food Safety Initiatives (IFS and BRC). Full traceability (in both ways) down to the purchased raw materials as well as to the packaging materials and documented manufacturing processes are a matter of course.” They continue, “We are very careful in our use of energy, materials, air, water and soil. If there is any doubt at all, we chose the most ecological solution. We commit ourselves to respect the important laws and designations and are eager to develop and improve our services in the field of environment in a permanent and systematic way.” HACO has been committed to sustainability in the following ways: All resources are constantly optimized thanks to our energy controlling system; In view of a better environmental compatibility we are using natural gas whenever possible; Waste heat is re-integrated into the manufacturing processes by recovery equipment; New buildings are insulated using up-dated state-of-the-art technology and equipped with building control systems to ensure the best ecological and economical operation; Part of our electricity is obtained by our own solar power system; Our logistic operations are made with priority by rail; Our packing material is, whenever possible, compact, poor in toxic elements and recyclable; and all our organic waste is disposed of in ecological compost-fermentation facilities. “With production plants partially located in the midst of closely settled residential areas we are very conscious of our commitment to our neighbors. We keep noise exposure and offensive smells to a minimum,” says the company.

Production and Product Selection
Gone are the days where soluble coffee is where green beans go to die. With the changes that have been occurring in this industry, R&G has something to envy. Soluble coffee is no longer for an inferior product. With advancements in the production process, the taste of the coffee is no longer “masked” or “disguised,” the taste profiles are no longer “unrecognizable.” So many soluble coffee manufacturers are turning to premium beans.

HACO offers an array of coffee products, all requiring very specific and specialized production. The three main methods used in their facility: extraction, drying and freeze-drying supply the industry with very different products, all useful in their own way. According to HACO, “At the core of our production plant are our extraction facilities - large espresso machines used to extract the essential elements of the freshly roasted coffee beans by water and steam. Most of these liquid coffee extracts are carefully concentrated and dried. Liquid concentrates are used as semi-finished products in the food industry. The drying process is one of the oldest and most energy-saving methods to preserve food. In order to achieve maximum shelf life the water content of a product is accurately reduced to a low level. At HACO a variety of modern drying technologies are used to extend the shelf life of the finished products. During the spray drying process the coffee and tea extracts are atomized into a drying tower and dried by a warm airflow to a soluble instant product. On the other hand, freeze-drying is a particularly careful drying procedure to capture the volatile aroma components: this method was first used by HACO in 1969 as the first industrial enterprise in Switzerland. Coffee extract is frozen at minus 40°C in thin layers and then granulated. The frozen granules are conveyed into a vacuum cabinet, in which the frozen water evaporates directly from ice to steam (sublimation). A similar method is applied with our so-called vacuum belt dryers, which are used for the production of malt-based breakfast beverages and semi-finished food ingredients. In this case products in a paste form are foamed under vacuum conditions and carefully dried at low temperatures in order to preserve the volatile flavors.”

HACO coffee and coffee substitute extracts are produced from selected, freshly roasted green coffee beans, says the company. Origin, variety, roasting procedure and exquisite blending assure particular characteristics and full flavored aroma to each extract. The extracts are available as liquid or powder, in different flavors and qualities. HACO is also cleverly incorporating single-origin, specialty coffee into its catalogue, as it is the only company to use Jamaican Blue Mountain in its soluble products. This decision alone can indicate the direction of this market.

Buencafe tends to focus on the freeze-drying method, as this is what has been most successful for them in the past. “The low temperatures used in the freeze-dried manufacturing process preserve the flavor attributes inherent in a good cup of coffee better than any other instant coffee manufacturing process, and offers the excellent quality, flavor and aroma of freshly roast and ground beans in a truly convenient ‘instant’ preparation,” says Mejia. “To achieve this high quality product, the coffee is carefully roasted and ground before undergoing extraction of the soluble solids. Then the frozen foamy extract is gently laid onto a belt that moves through sophisticated tunnel chambers, where it is dried at extremely low temperatures under the correct pressure and vacuum conditions to assure preservation of the coffee’s most desirable cup profile and flavor characteristics.” There are challenges however, and Mejia makes sure to acknowledge these. “The freeze drying process is an art to us,” Mejia explains, “we carefully choose the right green coffee and employ the best experts in the industry, nonetheless, we face very challenging issues such as the different kind of blends there are in the market; today a consumer can find a wide range of cup profiles with different price levels, sometimes affecting the quality.” Continuing, “Our strategy is focused on offering value to all the stages of the chain from the crop, to the cup; with 100% Colombian Coffee, we understand we are not in the market to fight with price but with high quality products, the best service and added value for the Coffee Growers of Colombia and to our customers. Quality has been always our priority, not only because it is our responsibility to the coffee growers to promote the origin, but because we understand it is the only way to survive in the long run with a consumer that is very dynamic and demanding; however in our continue search for better products and services we have just finished an expansion that will provide us with more flexibility and room to develop tailor-made freeze dried coffees.”

In Ecuador, Elcafe has also encountered many struggles throughout the years. “The biggest challenge for Elcafe has been to produce instant coffee without coffee in a coffee producing country, poor electricity and water supply to our production facilities and finally freeze drying at -55°C in the heart of the Tropics. It really sounds like a technological tour de force,” says Vasquez. But despite it all, “Elcafe C.A has been focusing for the past 12 years on freeze drying for 2 main reasons: First, small and declining green coffee production in Ecuador makes it fundamental to add more value to an imported raw material in order to sustain commercial and technical growth (emulate northern Europe by producing not local coffee but local know-how); and secondly, better cater to the coffee needs of the European community and especially the new bigger European community, our main customer, partly due to a tax advantage with Brazil.”

Elcafe C.A.. fulfills the highest international standards in its factories, like ISO 9001 certification - version 2000. “Our company is also harmonized with an integrated quality system that includes HACCP, Good Manufacturing Practices - GMP and Industrial Safety,” says Vasquez. The company offers a variety of products, each with a unique production process: coffee extracts, spray-dried instant coffee, agglomerated instant coffee, freeze-dried instant coffee, decaffeinated instant coffee and instant coffee in bulk and private label.

Kretschmer too reveals that VIVA Coffee experiences challenges in their niche sector. Our biggest challenge is to “preserve the aroma of the coffee beans and be as close as possible to the taste of roast and ground coffee.” She continues, “VIVA Coffee has a value added chain from green beans to the final product. Apart from our emphasis on the quality end of the market, and on product innovations, including using various types of packaging, different jar shapes and lid colors and different types of labeling, one of the ways that VIVA Coffee distinguishes itself from other manufacturers of soluble is that the entire production process will take place ‘under one roof.’ We will also roast our coffee ourselves at the facility, acquired especially for the process. We offer a Private Label complete solution.”

Who’s Drinking What
Success means pleasing your customer. And in order to please your customer, you must know your customer…keep up with their demands, and cater to their different tastes. It is important to understand your target demographic and make sure your product is appropriate for their taste buds.

“Eastern Europe, Russia and emerging tea drinking Asian countries are going to be, according to my vision, the new trend setters in the development of new soluble coffee products,” says Joseph Massoud, managing director Elcafe. “On the other hand Starbucks is trying to introduce soluble coffee in the specialty market niche in the U.S., maybe opening the door to a new instant coffee concept. It is still too premature to tell.” Massoud continued, “As for the European instant market, from England to Russia, Nestle, beside being a market leader, has the marketing and technological abilities to predict and develop new products catered to the evolving tastes of each and every segmented coffee market. At Elcafe, we believe that we have to differentiate our freeze products by enhancing our aroma recuperation abilities and thus be a serious alternative to the companies that compete with Nestle. Major investment and research is now being put in the production of extract as we have reached a reasonable size and efficiency in the final freeze-drying process. Our freeze products for 2010 are going to be more varied, not only in roast (dark, medium, mild) and type of coffee (Robusta and Arabica) but for example, in type and size of the coffee instant chip, its color, the turbidity and the foam quality of the liquid product, the amount of aroma added to the process etc...”

Kretschmer also sees certain countries as leading the way in soluble coffee consumption. “Instant Coffee is very successful in tea drinking countries like UK, Russia, Japan etc. where the consumer base is very large. We expect China to become a major consumer mid and long term due to global opening and western consumer and convenience trends, no coffee machines, etc,” she explains. As for predictions for the future, Viva Coffee seems to believe packaging innovations are the key to expansion. “Yes, soluble coffee is already today a popular drink. However with further product innovations, the popularity of soluble coffee will be even increased over the next years. New processes, flavors, single-origin, instant specialty drinks and further innovations on the packaging side.”

In the U.S. soluble coffee tend to be more accepted by the Hispanic population,” says Mejia. “This is not only our experience, but studies such as National Coffee Drinking trends 2009 edition prepared by the NCA confirm this. There are other groups, including Americans, who, in the future, will be looking for good quality soluble coffees because of the value (right price and convenience).” Mejia continues, “On the other hand in Europe we have a very good experience mostly in UK and Eastern Europe because of their trend consumption, furthermore the specialty coffees and high quality products demanded by the consumer have been growing and we expect this tendency to continue.”

“The producing countries have understood the importance of internal consumption. On the other hand, we think there is still a big space in emerging markets which has a tradition in tea consumption such as Eastern Europe, amongst others. This will definitely expand the soluble coffee market and will help to develop new and better soluble coffees,” says Mejia. “As producers we have big innovation challenges, we must offer some added value in our products, the consumer has changed their consumption habits and we must understand it and follow this trends. While Mejia does not expect consumption to change in the way of these demographics, he does believe the product will only continue to improve. “During this decade, this reality has changed with the positioning of high quality soluble coffees such as the freeze dried coffee; we think that the industry has started to realize what the opportunities are in this segment and that the consumer is willing to switch as long as there is value in it.” As for the future of soluble, Mejia is optimistic. “The ready-to-drink products are targeted to the young crowd while the instant coffee is traditionally consumed by an older population. The ready-to-drink consumers will be looking for convenient ways to drink a good quality cup of coffee and this exactly what soluble coffee has to offer, however the industry needs to improve the quality of the products and packages. New processes, flavors, single-origin, instant, specialty drinks, etc, could be seen. Specialty coffees, origin and certifications will set new trends and drive more consumers.”

Joseph Massoud best summarizes the past, current and future state of the soluble coffee industry: “It seems that the coffee world experts all agree that the consumption of soluble coffee after declining in the 80s and 90s, and consolidating and growing again in this new century will grow faster than the R&G business in the next 10 years due obviously to the new purchase power of emerging countries. Let's hope that by 2020, 35 to 40% of coffee drinking people will drink soluble vs. a little over 20% today.” He concludes, “The Soluble coffee industry is going today through a major differentiation process between new coffee instant products: New coffee customers are taking the business of drinking soluble products seriously, not only as a quick alternative to R&G.

The instant drink is becoming part of a new global culture of merging efficiency and quality together. Hopefully instant coffee can manage to become the global coffee drink.”


Tea & Coffee - February, 2010
Tecpacking


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