Espressology GM Ged Ryan on what customers really want in a post-COVID era

ged ryan

General Manager of Espressology Ged Ryan talks to BeanScene about the value of perfection and what customers really want in a post-COVID era. 

When Ged Ryan started work as a barista the day after he finished his Higher School Certificate in October 2000, it was simply a means to fund his Schoolies trip to the Gold Coast the following month. But what he soon discovered, was that his casual induction into coffee couldn’t have fallen into better hands. 

“My father had a silent share in a café that was owned by family friend and industry icon Instaurator [Founder of private label roaster Espressology] and Paul Jackson from Danes Specialty Coffee. The way I got taught how to make coffee was very meticulous. If [store manager] Phil St Clare Hobbs didn’t like how we extracted the espresso shot or made the foam on top of the coffee, it didn’t go out to clients,” Ged recalls. 

“Perfection was everything, and at age 18 it was a steep learning curve, but something that’s stayed with me ever since.”

It followed Ged as he “dabbled” with barista competitions between 2001 and 2002, where he says his espresso and milk-based beverages were always “consistently perfect” because of the environment where he was taught. His signature drink however, was “terrible” – a simple piccolo latte that Ged says wouldn’t be comparable to the standard served in today’s World Barista Championship (WBC).

Placing a respectable seventh signalled an early end to Ged’s competition career. He took a hiatus from coffee and travelled the world before pursuing work as a chartered accountant. After a few years in corporate tax, Ged saw Instaurator again at an annual luncheon. He expressed his fatigue with accounting and, just like that, was offered the role as Espressology General Manager on the spot.

One month into his role, Ged went to the 2013 Melbourne International Coffee Expo. There, he attended one of the Coffee Logic Specialty Coffee Association-certified training courses run by Sasha Jade of Fat Poppy Coffee Roasters. It was Ged’s first cupping experience and he was blown away by Sasha’s cupping knowledge and ability to articulate flavour characteristics.

It was this discovery of flavour that helped transition Ged from a world of spreadsheets into coffee exploration. 

“I wanted to learn everything. Instaurator took me under his wing and taught me how to run a business. I also picked up a lot of people skills from Rob Murrell, our Client Services Director. I tried to learn from those that had better skills than me in different areas,” Ged says. “Instaurator really is right. Espressology is an entrepreneur factory and I’m surrounded by some of the leaders in the industry.”

Pre-COVID-19, Ged was spread across all parts of the Espressology business, working on the factory floor to uphold quality control standards, dabbling in sales and bookkeeping, but more than anything, he enjoys meeting with existing and prospective clients. 

“I love spending time with our clients and developing ideas to better suit their needs or services. I am really confident that with the doors to hospitality back open, life will get back to normal and we’ll continue doing the things we do well – talking to people, collaborating and discovering what the next big thing around corner is,” Ged says. “Being an accountant by trade, I used to see clients as dollars on an invoice, but through my time with Espressology I’ve learned that it’s about so much more. It’s about relationships and I often put myself in my customer’s shoes to see if I can deliver what they’re asking for.”

Most recently, Ged says customers have become more inquisitive on where their coffee is coming from rather than just how it tastes.

“People are wanting to know if the coffee is grown and sourced ethically, but without doubt the biggest thing people ask is if our packaging is sustainable, which is something I’m personally passionate about. For three years I’ve been trying to solve it, and finally the other day I did. We’ve managed to solve compostable packaging for our high-volume packing machine with suppliers we met at Austpack in 2018. Now we can supply it quite easily and quickly,” Ged says.

“What I would like to do is supply a box of coffee to a café and say, ‘everything from the box in, is compostable, including the coffee bags and the shipping sticker’. There’s no reason these items can’t be compostable and break down within weeks or a couple of months.”

The biggest barrier to compostable packaging in the past, Ged says, is its price, which has traditionally been four times more expensive than standard packaging. However, with a product now proven to be effective, and sustainability a key focus for many businesses, Ged says customers won’t be able to say “no”.

As well as packaging prices, Ged says conversations around global coffee prices continue, with the price hovering around USD$2.00 per pound at the time of print, and is likely to rise even further. 

“The international protocol around price regulation hasn’t changed in about 13 years. To absorb the price high as an importer and roaster, I do think consumers will have to start paying 50 cents to one dollar more for their daily latte, otherwise it’s just not sustainable,” Ged says.

That’s not all that’s changed. In the past year, Ged notes a trend back towards medium style roasts, heavily branded packaging, digital printing, growth in ecommerce sales, and single bag orders, which have all forced Espressology to adapt to market changes.

“The coffee industry is constantly evolving and if you don’t keep up to date with it, you’re going to be left behind. You have to keep an open mind,” Ged says.

“What’s been great to see is the evolution of Espressology and the expansion of our services. Back in 2013 we just put coffee in a bag. Now, we make all kinds of products for different parts of the industry. We have clients that have their product in Woolies so we work with distribution centres, wholesale customers, we do drop-shipping, and offer our range of up to 60 product stock-keeping units to 20 to 30 brands that each have their own unique product and way of doing business. Being able to manage that volume and their different needs is probably one of our biggest successes.”

The other, Ged says, is Espressology’s transfer of knowledge. The company started with one operator in its factory. Now, there are five working in production who all know how to roast and use Espressology’s range of equipment. “Getting the coffee knowledge out of Instaurator and into the guys pushing the buttons has been the biggest difference,” Ged says.

He doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty on the factory floor, but when new coffees arrive, Ged still finds enjoyment in tasting Espressology’s latest addition to its Single Origin program, or a new blend carefully curated for a customer. His fascination with flavour brings back memories of the elite coffees Paul Bassett would present at regular cupping sessions in his early days at Espressology.

“Looking back, we were spoilt for choice. Paul spent astronomical amounts of money on his coffees and when he swapped one of the origins out, we couldn’t wait to taste the replacement. Most people would serve these coffees as a single origin for espresso or filter, and we were putting them in blends,” Ged says.

Thanks to his elite induction into specialty coffee, Ged can’t go past the beauty of an Ethiopian natural processed coffee. At home, he has an espresso machine he never uses. Instead, he prefers his little hand grinder, V60, and makes a filter coffee each morning. 

“I sit on the deck with my coffee and watch the sun come up with my dog. It’s my daily ritual,” Ged says.

On reflection, Ged sometimes misses working behind a coffee bar, but not the physical practice of making coffee. Rather, it’s the interaction and connection with people he’s most fond of, and what he’s missed most during Sydney’s 2021 lockdown.

“I love that coffee allows me to meet new people, form relationships, and travel all over Australia,” he says. I can’t wait to reignite this passion and continue talking with people about their love for coffee, what’s new on the market, and how we at Espressology can make coffee visions a reality.” 

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This article appears in the December 2021 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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