Coffee Supreme celebrates 30-year anniversary

Coffee Supreme

Coffee Supreme celebrates 30 years of creating better coffee experiences and growing relationships in the New Zealand, Australian and international coffee markets.

Turning 30 has never looked so good on Coffee Supreme. It’s established, has a loyal following, and a consumer base spanning three countries, but the team’s passion and vision makes it feel like it’s just getting started.

“A lot has happened in 30 years. We’ve grown up a little bit, we’ve found our way and our purpose in the world, and we continue making better coffee for all,” says Fraser Lovell, Coffee Supreme Head of Green Coffee Procurement and 18-year employee this December.

“Coffee Supreme has always been recognised for its quality first approach. We were an early adopter of direct sourcing in the New Zealand market, trying to establish meaningful partnerships at origin, and working year-on-year with around 15 coffee suppliers to grow together in those early days.

“It’s this approach that’s led us to where we are now, poised for our next step, our next adventure, our next stage in life.”

The gift of Coffee Supreme is thanks to Founders Chris Dillon and Maggie Wells who started the company in 1993 in search of a better coffee solution for its fledgling Reds Café at 49 Willis Street in Wellington. It was a foundational time in New Zealand’s coffee scene.

“The coffee culture was really born out of a few key players in the late 80s and early 90s. It was a time where the café scene was really starting to take off, and people were discovering what coffee was about, and how cafés could become a home outside of home,” Fraser says.

“New Zealand has always been recognised as having a high quality, reasonably sophisticated coffee market that’s quite fiercely independently operator lead.”

Chris and Maggie became leaders in hospitality, and an example for others to follow in how they made business decisions, attracted like-minded people, and introduced a full-service model with in-house technicians and training.

“They built a comprehensive training manual in the very early days before anyone else really had one, particularly in espresso training. It was a big string in the brand’s bow back then, which became a critical and key part of our offering,” says Doug Johns, Coffee Supreme’s Creative Director, and 14-year employee.

Over time, Fraser says Coffee Supreme’s green coffee sourcing, roast style and quality commitment have helped separate the brand from its competitors.

“We’re always strived to have a diverse offering of coffee origins, not just blends, but high quality, single origins, auction- winning coffees, a Panamanian Geishas, or rare breed Yemeni coffees. Being able to peel back the curtain a little, demystify coffee, and educate people has probably been one of Coffee Supreme’s key points of difference,” Fraser says.

He credits his first trip to origin, the inaugural Costa Rican Cup of Excellence in 2007, as influential to supercharging the company’s quest for finding unique, high- quality coffees to bring back to market.

This visibility of the entire coffee journey extends to the longstanding producer relationships Coffee Supreme has fostered, some dating back 15 years or longer.

“It’s like we’ve grown up together and seen each other develop and prosper through our shared relationship and shared values. We’ve seen multiple changes over the years, coffee trends in the café space, and climate change and weather disruption at origin, but quality has stood the test of time,” Fraser says.

What’s also stayed the course is Coffee Supreme’s purpose of creating “Better Coffee For All”, which extends to better deals with producers for a quality product and paying better premiums so that the result is better for the producer, roaster and its customers who receive a better tasting product.

“That idea of ‘better coffee’ can spread right across the supply chain, and sometimes challenges ourselves to create a better product option than what is currently available on the market, such as when we developed our own specialty instant coffee,” Doug says.

This quest has been married with intentional branding in an approachable way that connects Coffee Supreme to its audience.

“As an industry, we can sometimes find ourselves talking about nuanced details that consumers often don’t understand. So, we make a conscious effort to have a brand tone of voice that is approachable, fun and irreverent, not to discount that level of information and detail, which is always there, but to present it in an engaging way that invites people into the world of coffee,” Doug says.

“We live and breathe hospitality and want to have fun with it. Coffee is a daily ritual for people; that morning visit to a café, the café team that knows your name, and serving the perfect flat white. It sets your day off on the right foot. We want that love of coffee to come through in everything we do, our brand, our products, and our merchandise.”

That engagement has been felt right across Coffee Supreme’s hundreds of wholesale accounts, in addition to its grocery customers, which the brand started supplying in 2020, beginning with New World supermarket in Wellington before going out to the Foodstuffs Group and Countdown, the equivalent to Woolworths in Australia.

Doug adds that New Zealand grocery has one of the most advanced fresh coffee offerings globally, and despite its comprehensive range, Coffee Supreme is proud to have carved out a new category in the supermarket space, providing a specialty roast option for customers.

“We started in the fresh fruit and vegetable section with signage that read: ‘This is fresh like your vegetables. You should buy less more often. We just roasted it the other day’,” Doug says.

“We’re one of the only brands that print the roast date on the packaging. We want to be really transparent and educate people on what genuine quality is, and this was our way to prove it.

“There’s no reason a really nice coffee shouldn’t be at the supermarket.”

All eyes on Oz

Coffee Supreme made is move into Australia in 2002 thanks to former employee and Head Technician Justin Emerson and his partner Marsha Partington who went to Melbourne to watch the Formula One Grand Prix. They loved it so much that they said to then-owner Chris, “we’re going to move to Melbourne and we’re taking Supreme with us”.

And they did. They brought over a 12-kilogram Probat roaster which still remains in Coffee Supreme’s Melbourne warehouse.

“The timing was quite good in that Melbourne had a strong traditional Italian coffee scene and culture, which meant we could participate and bring something new to an interested crowd. We seemed to resonate with Melburnians and grow a healthy business,” says Doug.

“Over the past 10 years, Melbourne has blown up with a myriad of great coffee brands. It is very competitive. Everyone’s got delicious coffee, doing good things, and growing authentic brands, but our point of difference has been our history and staying true to what we do. We’ve been able to successfully ride through the peaks and trends, whether brewing or tech. By staying the course, we’ve maintained focus on doing what we do well, sourced the best green beans, retained a deep knowledge of roasting, and supported our café customers with consistently good product and service.”

Fraser notes there is lots of potential in Australia. Coffee Supreme has built a strong base over the past 21 years, and expanded its presence with roasteries in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, with a view to further expand throughout Australia.

“We’ve got our eyes on many great cafés and hospitality venues to hopefully set up partnerships with. Recently, we’ve invested a lot in our people and resourcing in the Australian team to enable us to support our wholesale accounts and deliver direct to consumers via eCommerce,” says Doug.

Fraser adds that each geographical region Coffee Supreme serves has dedicated teams focused on delivering fresh and consistent high-quality coffee to service their local demand.

“There’s always a little bit of regional variation in our range that comes from local preferences, but ultimately, no matter where you are, you’ll be able to have a cup of Supreme and enjoy the same experience, the same quality, and the same value proposition coupled with a distinctive flavour profile,” Fraser says, noting Coffee Supreme’s universal blend profile as a “balanced, smooth coffee with burnt citrus notes and chocolate”.

“We’ve always tried to present a coffee that’s usable and approachable, not alienating but also distinctive. It definitely resonates with both our baristas and their customers in many ways. We get that positive feedback a lot,” he says.

Chris and Maggie passed on the baton of company ownership in June 2022, just shy of the 30-year mark. For them, Doug says it was a “marquee moment” to have grown a successful business and hand it onto good custodians of the brand to see it flourish for the next 30 years.

“We’re excited about this next chapter and the decades ahead. We’re growing our team while remaining true to our roots to support the hospitality industry to thrive with our coffee and our support crew,” Fraser says. “We wake up every day with the same drive our founders started with – to create better coffee for all.”

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

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