St Ali CEO Lachlan Ward shares the company’s refocused goals that will see the business develop a product range focused on delivering best-in-category coffee for all.
The St Ali customers knew pre-pandemic is very different to the one that presents today. The iconic specialty coffee roaster has been a trendsetter of the Melbourne coffee scene for the past 17 years, and is continuing to be daring and ambitious, but in a new way.
Like many roasters pre-COVID, St Ali’s business focus was centred around its wholesale partners, making up 95 per cent of its volume. When Melbourne went into lockdown, St Ali’s business was decimated overnight. At its worst, the company volume was down 80 per cent.
St Ali CEO Lachlan Ward says it was a huge shock to everyone, but the “electric shock treatment” was the shake-up the company needed to step into action.
“Our business has never been afraid to try new things and seek out new opportunities. Out of necessity, COVID supercharged a lot of the decision-making around things we had been toying with for years,” Lachlan says. “This means we have emerged from the past two years a really diversified coffee business.”
One thing the pandemic confirmed was that people never stopped drinking coffee. What it changed slightly, is how and where it’s being consumed. St Ali is always looking for wholesale customers that will share its vision and will forever remain a large part of its business. In addition, St Ali has strengthened its focus on e-commerce and home coffee consumption.
“It’s become a huge part of the business. We’ve seen incredible growth in the online channel. There’s a lot of fantastic equipment available at people’s fingertips to create café quality coffee at home, and people took the opportunity to invest because they weren’t able to travel or go overseas,” Lachlan says.
Another focus has been St Ali’s presence in grocery channels, partnering with independent grocery channels and working with major outlets Coles and Woolworths to distribute its coffee.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for the end consumer. Australia, even though we see ourselves as a market leader in coffee, has been very behind in terms of what we offer in the supermarket channel from a coffee perspective. That’s changed quite a bit in the last couple of years, and it’s changed our business forever,” Lachlan says.
“Through the supermarket channel, we’re able to make sure excellent coffee is at the fingertips of coffee lovers nationally. That’s the power of that channel.”
Lachlan says beyond coffee quality, customers are driving access to product like never before, wanting their favourite roaster to be accessible, whether they’re at home or on the road.
‘There’s a loyalty that exists with coffee brands that’s unique. Customers are proud of the brand of coffee they drink. Because of this, roasters need to have options to ensure their fans have access to their product at any point in their day,” Lachlan says.
Product development has always been at the forefront of St Ali’s business, but thanks to the pandemic which helped fast-track some key projects, the roaster has released a full ready-to-drink beverage range, inclusive of dairy and dairy alternative milks which will debut nationally later this year.
“St Ali is proudly creative and celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit. We’ve always been that way. I like to think of us as a creative agency more than a coffee company. While we’re rooted in coffee and our coffee credentials speak for themselves, we’ve always tried to be more than that, and that shines through with everything we do as a business,” Lachlan says.
“One thing we learned through the pandemic is that people trust us as custodians for quality and provenance, and that’s given us the confidence to try new things.”
This includes branching out of St Ali’s largely Victorian-centric persona. Lachlan says although St Ali was one of the first Australian coffee roasters to open in London in 2010, has an international presence in Jakarta and Japan, and product available nationwide, the company has never ventured far from its South Melbourne origin.
As such, this year Lachlan’s goal is to build a truly national brand presence. To make that happen, St Ali is quietly opening branch offices and purchasing other small roasters nationally. It has most recently purchased Dramanti Coffee Roasters in Brisbane.
“This is the next big step for us to get into the Queensland market. We didn’t start in Queensland. Our DNA is here in Melbourne. In order to overcome the need to understand local and approach the Brisbane market, we needed a local approach and presence, and a commitment to market, and that’s what we’ll do. We certainly think we can shake things up in Brisbane and Queensland in a good way,” Lachlan says.
A Sydney expansion is next on the cards – through real estate or acquisition. It is a market St Ali is already very strong in, and will look to build on with a local operation.
“The future for our businesses is interstate. There’s so many people that don’t really know who we are yet, so we’re excited to move interstate in a big way over the next 12 months. The best is yet to come,” Lachlan says.
That motto rings true for Lachlan, who has recently been appointed to St Ali CEO after 14 years working in the coffee industry, and 11 of them with St Ali.
“I’ve worked in almost every capacity in the business. I feel that I’ve grown personally and professionally with the business over the years. I’ve travelled widely, worked with different corporate accounts, and have been exposed to a great number of fantastic people who have shared their own wisdom and knowledge of the world and helped me become the person I am today,” Lachlan says.
“Taking on the CEO role is a big step to take. I never would have imagined I’d be in this position when I first joined all those years ago. Being involved operationally day-to-day is different to being in the chair and steering the ship, but I’m super excited about it.”
Outgoing CEO Salvatore Malatesta will mentor Lachlan for the next 12 to 18 months, and report to a Board made up of coffee professionals with experience across coffee, hospitality, creative, brands, finance, and legal.
“I think what Sal brings to the business is special. He has that sort of entrepreneurial-founder energy. Maybe a good comparison of our relationship is Steve Jobs and Tim Cook,” Lachlan says.
Lachlan and Salvatore have worked together for a long time. The reason they complement each other, Lachlan says, is because of a great sense of trust between them.
“Sal has put a lot of faith in me to make mistakes and learn. I’ve been thrown in the deep end 1000 times, and it’s worked. I’m proud of where I’ve come from and where I am today,” he says.
“I know that I’m very lucky to be given this opportunity. I’m pretty young to be taking on a role like this. I don’t profess to know everything but I am the sort of person to ask lots of questions and will try and assemble the best team around me to share success with. It’s a challenge but an exciting one I’m ready to embrace.”
Lachlan’s personal ambitions will include developing the company’s People and Culture division, finding the next generation of leaders, and ensuring St Ali becomes an “employee of choice” for professionals within the coffee industry over the next few years.
“We’re looking to the future. It’s a lofty ambition but that’s what you have to shoot for, right? There’s no reason why we can’t do that,” Lachlan says. “With St Ali, you’ve always got to expect the unexpected.”
For more information, visit stali.com.au
This article appears in the August 2022 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.