Cafetto Founder Chris Short celebrates a 20-year commitment


Cafetto is turning 20 and as its Founder Chris Short tells BeanScene, its success in the international coffee market is the result of a truth, a lie, and a dare to create a range that suits every coffee machine application.

Chris Short never asked his father for permission to start a coffee machine cleaning company. Instead, Chris did the legwork and research required to ensure it was a sound business strategy.

“I bought a San Marino Lisa one-group machine, which I’ve still got, and a Mazzer Mini grinder, and when I was reading the installation manual, I realised I needed a cleaner,” Chris says.

“The next time I was in Melbourne, I stopped at a machine wholesaler and said to them: ‘I need a cleaner for my machine’. They sold me a 900-gram jar of imported powder cleaner. I brought it back to my home in Adelaide, and cleaned my machine following the instructions. I was unimpressed with the results. So, I took it to the research and development team [at my father’s commercial cleaning and sanitation business, Dominant]. I asked one of our chemists to create a higher-performing formula, then bought every other cleaner I could find, and laboratory tested them all.”

Confident he could do better, Chris had the R&D team develop a cleaning product with the criteria to be better than anything on the market; something that cleaned well, rinsed well, and didn’t have an unpleasant fragrance. Chris took a few jars of the finished product to cafés to road-test, and they all gave him a thumbs up. Chris needed a name for his new product, and used his love for Italy as inspiration.

“I wanted an Italian sounding name to imply ‘the perfect coffee’, which in Italian is ‘il caffè perfetto’, so I shortened caffé and perfetto and joined them together to create the brand name Cafetto,” he says.

One of the first people to see the potential in Chris’ cleaning product was industry service manager Rob Balassa, who rang Chris wanting to come see him in Adelaide. He wanted tablets, sachets, and liquid cleaning products. Rob made him a proposal and said: “If you can make them, I’ll buy everything from you.”

Chris bought a couple of second-hand tablet presses, including a “very clunky” 1947 Manesty No. 3 tablet machine, and a sachet-making machine, housed in a rented warehouse. Once the products were developed, true to his word, Rob bought the whole range to service the Australian and New Zealand market. Word spread and Cafetto started to take off.

“My father said to me, ‘son, I don’t mind you doing this new range of products, but just don’t take your eye off the core business,’ which was Dominant. I promised him I wouldn’t, but that was a lie because I became addicted to trying to develop the Cafetto brand,” says Chris.

“Dominant was very much a South Australian brand that my father wanted to see national. When he would drive to Melbourne, he would stop in Stawell or Horsham and go into a café for a coffee. He’d ring me and say: ‘son, son, they’ve got your product here’. I think the more he travelled around Australia and saw the product in more and more places, it really made him very proud.”

Two tablet-making machines have since evolved into a full-scale, dedicated factory in Adelaide with custom machinery for tableting and sachet manufacturing. The factory is complete with a temperature- controlled dehumidification, which Chris says is essential for quality control.

“The 1947 clunker machine is now well retired and sits in our museum,” he adds.

The Cafetto product line now caters to a broad range of coffee equipment categories including cleaning products for traditional and automatic espresso machines, milk containers and lines, grinders, capsules, brewers, and home machines. Cafetto also became well known for pioneering a full range of certified, organic cleaning products, thanks to a challenge inspired by industry stalwart Enzo Massarotti.

“At this 20-year milestone, we are most excited about our array of organic products. Our innovation and product development are heavily informed by our customers’ needs, and we are passionate about sustainability as we begin the next 20 years of Cafetto,” says Chris.

After Australia, the next market to support Cafetto was New Zealand, with Chris White of Altura Coffee Company his first international customer, and still a loyal one today. Chris says getting recognition and acceptance overseas was a steep hill to climb.

To help highlight the importance of cleaning, Cafetto successfully proposed sponsorship for the World Coffee Championships in 2008, and has continued to nurture this relationship over the past 15 years. This presence on the world stage has helped Cafetto grow in Asia, followed by Europe, the Middle East, United Kingdom, and the Americas. Cafetto now distributes products to more than 70 countries.

Aside from the quality of Cafetto’s product range, Chris’ determination to build relationships has been incredibly important in the establishment of the brand. In the early days, Chris would spend six months of the year travelling as the company’s main sales rep, attending trade shows and holding face-to-face meetings to “get to know the people behind the brands they represented”.

Nowadays, he says the influence of the internet and social media have a massive impact on market communication, but he and the Cafetto team maintain that face- to-face interaction is the best form of social engagement.

“As a company, what we offer is a commitment to make the best cleaning solutions possible for any coffee machine in the marketplace at an economical price,” Chris says.

To do that, Chris says Cafetto must keep up with the evolution of the beverage equipment market.

“We have a whole warehouse of coffee machines, from traditional and fully automatic to pod, to ensure we have a product that can work with each model,” he says.

Chris adds that Cafetto’s commitment to excellence and innovation has enabled the company to work closely with many businesses to develop machine-specific cleaning solutions.

One of the biggest challenges for Cafetto is to ensure products meet the required regulatory standards of the countries in which they are sold and used. For this reason, Cafetto has its own regulatory team, as well as external consultants where required. Chris says customers must always feel assured that Cafetto’s products formulations are suitable for their market, and that the labels and documentation comply with local regulations.

“The plan is to further the brand’s international presence and success. To do that, I think we’ve just got to stay on this path of innovation, research, and development. We’re building our team, and we’re also looking at new products to meet new industry trends. We always want to be at the forefront of effective and sustainable cleaning technology, and I want to see the brand grow. Hopefully, I’m here for a lot longer to see it because it brings joy to my life,” Chris says.

“I’m very proud of what Cafetto has achieved. My colleagues in R&D, Christine [Song], our General Manager, Jason [Bond] our International Business Manager, and the whole team consistently do an incredible job of championing the brand. And of course, there are our wonderful customers, many whom have become absolute advocates for the brand.”

Above all, Chris says the most rewarding thing is seeing people love the brand he has built from the ground up.

“In 2017, I went into a beautiful little café in Milan and had a delicious coffee. Everywhere I go, I ask the barista what they use to clean the coffee machine. I asked this one, and they pulled out a jar of Cafetto Evo from under the cabinet. I was delighted. My product used on the other side of the world,” Chris says.

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This article appears in the October 2023 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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