Industry figures explain the story of MICE

Melbourne International Coffee Expo

Trade shows are launched with a purpose, and when it comes to the initiation of the Melbourne International Coffee Expo (MICE), its beginnings were one of industry need –a platform to share, connect, and unite – and this year, the expo marks a decade of its place on the Australian and international events calendar.

Rewind the clocks back to 2010, and coffee represented a tiny footprint in the Good Food and Wine Show, coinciding with a small barista competition. But it wasn’t enough. Coffee businesses quickly realised there weren’t many industry professionals in attendance, nor did it capture the imagination of what a wholly dedicated coffee industry event could be.

At the time, Prime Creative Media, the publishers of industry trade publication BeanScene, had experience in putting on successful trade shows at the Melbourne Showgrounds, albeit for the International Truck and Trailer Show. The space was large, it was affordable, and under the ‘Big Top’, a 8000-square-metre space spanning almost half the size of the MCG playing surface, it was the ideal first location to begin a trade specific coffee event.

“We believed a coffee tradeshow would engage the industry in Australia but could also tap into the international market and take the event global,” says BeanScene’s former Business Development Manager and now Sales Director at Prime Creative Media, Brad Buchanan.

“We had created a world class coffee magazine with the support of the industry. Then we went out to all the 40 to 50 regular BeanScene advertisers and said: ‘We want to put on a dedicated coffee tradeshow that would benefit the industry. What do you think?’”

In MICE’s inaugural first year of 2012, under the leadership of then Show Director Clint Hendry, the show had good uptake. It attracted industry decision makers, allowed buyers and sellers to connect, helped form longstanding relationships, and hosted the Australian Specialty Coffee Association National Coffee Championships.

Some of the first to commit their support of the launch event were Allpress, Veneziano Coffee Roasters and Lion Dairy, led by Lance Brown, Former Lion Dairy National Business Development Manager and now Director of Sales at Black Bag Coffee Roasters. Lance says prior to MICE, BeanScene magazine helped generate groundswell and interest in the Australian coffee industry, but to have a dedicated event that hosted all his customers in the one spot, was the pinnacle.

“MICE was truly a well-produced show that took our industry to the next level. I’d been to a few international events at that stage, so I knew what it could be like. To launch our own in Melbourne, was just incredible. It put Melbourne and Australia on the coffee map. It became a reference point, and a benchmark for the world,” Lance says.

“From then on, other world events and exhibitors have had to ask themselves, ‘how do I do better MICE?’ And not many countries have since.”

The 2012 event also attracted the attention of Specialty Coffee Association members, who visited from the United States. With a glistening first impression, they asked MICE to pitch to host the World Barista Championship (WBC) the following year, and it proved a successful plight.

In only its second year of establishment, MICE hosted the 2013 World Barista and World Brewers Cup Championship, in what many still revere as one of the most memorable World Coffee Championships in history, complete with an arena grandstand and corporate boxes. VIP celebrities were ushered into the viewing decks, the sounds of the crowd were explosive, and with hanging country flags of the representing nations above the arena, it was the impetus to the WBC’s reference as the “Olympics of Coffee”.

“MICE has been a huge event for the industry and for our coffee competition status. We wouldn’t have got the worlds in Australia without MICE,” says Nomad Coffee Group CEO Craig Dickson, then President of the Australian Specialty Coffee Association.

“I remember standing in the grandstands watching the final. There had to be 600 or 700 people in there, then another 600 people or so watching it on screens outside who couldn’t get in. I’ve never seen a WBC like that ever or since. It was out of control. It was unbelievable. That’s when we thought, ‘okay, we’ve cracked something here. We’ve done something special’.”

MICE hosted the 2013 World Barista Championship in only its second year running.

Apart from the Host Milan biannual expo in Italy, Craig says MICE is the only really dedicated coffee show that actually gets roasters to attend. It’s also become the one place to connect annually with international connections.

“Before MICE, we never really saw international representation in Melbourne from the likes of our suppliers or international identities,” Craig says.

“It’s also been a way to connect our own team internally. We have flown company representatives in from other states and made it a real team building exercise and a platform to share new product releases. But ultimately, having everyone together is what makes MICE a special event.”

In the third year of MICE, the expo continued its international competition rein by hosting the World Cup Tasters, World Coffee in Good Spirits (CIGS), and World Latte Art Championship, of which Lance participated as a Qualified World Latte Art Judge.

He recalls watching German barista Christian Ullrich become victorious in the Latte Art category and Australia’s own Matt Perger taking the CIGS crown, but beyond the competition glamour, it’s been the friendships made through his journey of MICE that remains a standout.

“I love that through connections you’ve met at MICE, you get to meet again and again at other events all over the world. You become kindred spirits,” Lance says.

Looking back on those initiation years, BeanScene’s Brad says the reason for MICE’s early success was simply “because the industry supported it”.

“The industry came with us,” he says. “In the past 10 years, the Australia coffee market has become really interesting to the global market. We’re small but premium. MICE provides that focal point for the industry to come together each year, and I’m sure it has contributed to the success of many international brands in the Australian and Asia Pacific market.”

One such example is coffee equipment manufacturer Hario, who this year, is honouring its 102nd anniversary at MICE.

“By exhibiting at MICE over the years, Hario has been able to showcase our products to the Australian market and gather more Hario fans over time. Exhibiting at MICE has always been a great and fun way for us to connect the Hario brand with coffee professionals and coffee lovers,” says John Jang, Hario’s International Department Managing Director.

After the success of last year’s Hario Brew Bar, the popular feature will also return at MICE2023.

“It was so much fun to have coffee professionals, barista champions and coffee lovers to gather at our booth and connect over good coffee. I am looking forward to doing that again at our booth at MICE2023 and meet more coffee lovers in Australia,” John says.

“Hario will continue to collaborate closely with the coffee community to design coffee products with timeless and functional designs to help everyone find and brew their perfect cup.”

Hario products have been distributed in Australia for many years through barista equipment supplier Bombora, who in 2012, took a small 3×6-metre stand with a few portable shelves, a couple of pull-up banners, and two suppliers assisting on the stand.

“I remember Bernard [Peters, Managing Director of Bombora] saying, ‘I’ll give [MICE] a go, but if it doesn’t work, I’m never doing another tradeshow again. And if it does, you’ve got me for life.’ On day one of MICE2012, the Bombora stand was booming. On day two, I walked up to Bernard grinning, and he had a big smile on his face too. The rest is history,” BeanScene’s Brad says.

Bernard saw the potential in MICE. He recognised that the industry was growing and really needed its own platform.

Melbourne International Coffee Expo
MICE has always been a place to seek new products and technologies under the one roof.

“This was the first coffee focused fully inclusive show in Australia and New Zealand relevant for both specialty and the more general coffee industry. If you have a brand that wants/ needs a market presence or wants relevant feedback, it needs to be at this show,” Bernard says.

“[I had hoped it would] simply bring everyone together who shared a common interest and passion in specialty coffee. It’s a community I feel privileged to be part of and love seeing friends and colleagues and gaining a greater understanding of the market. It’s definitely exceeded our expectations.”

He says MICE provides the “perfect platform for physical engagement”, but it also provides critical industry feedback on what and how Bombora supplies, and helps put its name on the international map.

“It is a global show. All the big brands know it is the go-to- show for Australia/New Zealand, and even in Asia,” Bernard says.

“MICE is more independently run than most industry shows and events, allowing it to be more dynamic and adaptive to other events and circumstances. Administratively, it is run very well and is very accommodating to all sizes of business. From an organisational standpoint, it sets a benchmark globally.”

Come this August, the Bombora team will celebrate its 20th anniversary and 10 years of participation at MICE2023.

“We have some awesome people on the Bombora team, many whom have been with us 10 or more years. We love working hard, playing hard and laughing harder. Having fun is one of our core values, and MICE is a great place to achieve that,” Bernard says.

Another exhibitor who has been a supporter of MICE from day one is equipment distributor and service provider Coffee Works Express (CWE), who for a decade has used the expo to connect with customers, peers, suppliers, and colleagues all under the same roof.

“I recall being so excited about a new tradeshow dedicated solely to our industry, we just had to be involved. Supporting our peers, brands, coffee community was a no-brainer,” says CWE’s Natalie Kollar. “We hoped MICE would bring every aspect of the coffee industry together at one event, and it has: roasters, multinationals, machine manufacturers, and importers.”

Natalie says MICE has helped the company continue to cement its brand awareness and given it a wonderful platform to display and launch new products, including many iconic and revered coffee machine brands such as the Wega Polaris Tron, single-group Slayer, Mazzer Major V, and the Tempesta by Barista Attitude.

La Marzocco has also been a long-time supporter of MICE due to its unique ability to unite the diverse coffee industry and connect with customers.

“Throughout the years, MICE has allowed us to engage with our incredible community directly through a personal approach,” says La Marzocco’s Jets Anita Langlands.

“MICE has supported La Marzocco’s brand awareness by providing a platform in which we can showcase new product innovations and releases to our market through a dynamic approach, which over the years has included the KB90, Linea Mini, Leva X, and Wally Milk, to name just a few.”

For seven years, MICE called the Melbourne Showgrounds home until it relocated to the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Espresso Company Australia (ECA) has exhibited at nine MICE. CEO Charles Stephens says the expo has been a vehicle to represent its manufacturers and a great medium to introduce new products to the Australian coffee network on a wide scale.

“We love that this annual event connects the coffee community and is a great opportunity to grow our business, build brand awareness and catch up with a lot of good people,” Charles says. “It’s great to be part of an event that brings the ‘behind the scenes businesses’ in front of the consumer.”

ECA has used MICE as a platform to launch its rebrand, and has participated in the MICE Product Innovation Awards to generate further product awareness, both of which have resulted in new opportunities and relationships.

The Aillio Bullet was launched and a finalist in the inaugural MICE Innovation Awards.

“Roasting on the stand and visitors being able to engage in the complete experience was incredible,” Charles recalls. “We had the Bullet at MICE prior to the product being available and this generated continuous interest until the release for a strong market launch.”

While this remains a highlight, Charles says MICE2022 remains his standout memory:

“The high energy of the show, the Australian industry reuniting after a couple of years, Anthony Douglas taking out the WBC, and our rebrand launch made for an incredible event.”

Up until 2017, that platform had continued to be under the Melbourne Showgrounds Big Tent, where exhibitors embraced Melbourne’s unpredictable elements over the years, including heat and rain.

The next phase of MICE was a venue transition to the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) in 2018.

“It was a big conversation. We rang 20 to 30 of our major customers and told them we were thinking of the venue change, which would cost more but would mean shorter bump-in and bump-out times, and that people could stay in the CBD in hotels and enjoy the nightlife. We thought it was a good idea but they had to be willing to support it, and they were,” Brad recalls.

“Yes, people go to MICE to make money, but it’s about much more than that. It showcases the best of Australia as a coffee industry, and opens that up to the world. And through its new home at MCEC, we’ve done just that.”

CWE’s Natalie adds that the event’s maturity, the success of MICE and its ability to evolve were no doubt part of the rarity of hosting the WBC for a second time in 2022, of which had only ever been done once outside of the United States.

After two years of postponement thanks to COVID-19, MICE Show Director Lauren Winterbottom says MICE returned in 2022 in the biggest way possible, hosting the World Barista and World Brewers Cup, in what was a full circle moment for the event from where it started all those years ago, and a sheer spectacle of the very best of the Australian coffee industry.

“MICE2022 will go down as one of the most memorable MICE events. The industry was so eager to unite face-to-face after so long, and there was an obvious thirst for the industry to share new products, brand messaging and reconnect after years apart. MICE was needed, and continues to be so,” says Lauren.

Last year, a record 15,056 attendees visited the expo over four days, with 15 per cent international attendees from 71 countries, indicating a strong return of overseas participation. The attendance figure was the highest of any MICE expo since the event’s inception in 2012, with an increase of 25 per cent of visitor numbers since the 2019 event.

“MICE was already the largest dedicated coffee expo in the Southern Hemisphere, and we were proud to reinstate that title once again,” says Lauren.

“This year we go again. We continue to be the go-to-event for industry connection, and with our 10-year celebrations, we reflect on the opportunities MICE has provided, and the connections made between producers and roasters, manufacturers and roasters, roasters and café representatives.

We are proud to be a dedicated coffee trade event, and thank all our wonderful sponsors, exhibitors, and visitors for being equally dedicated and committed to this event, and its significance in the Australian market.”

This article appears in the MICE Showguide 2023. View the Showguide HERE.

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