Interview Romania Industry

In his hometown of Brașov, Lorand Imreh, Regional Sales Manager for European brands 1883 Maison Routin, ODK, Althaus and Caffè Moak, explains that introducing unknown products to the local Romanian market, controlled by Illycaffè and Monin, was just as difficult as entering it. We talked to Lorand to discuss why what he has to offer speaks volumes about the latest trends and recent demand.

Tell us what it has been like entering into the Romanian market with new coffees and syrups?

‘Three years ago when we started, the sale was made door-to-door. I have literally taken boxes in my arms and bar-hopped to show people these mysterious, foreign syrups and coffees. The products were rejected many times, with bars and cafes staying loyal to the established Monin and Illy brands, running the local market. Monin has a ten-year head start and Illy is a high quality, stable brand locals are accustomed to, particularly in Brașov. Only up until a few years ago, Lavazza and Illy were the only foreign blends here.’

The French Alps: home of 1883 Maison Routin syrups and source of their natural ingredients.

Photograph by Ksuperioridad via WordPress

The Romanian coffee and cocktail culture are slowly picking up global trends and becoming more current. Why aren’t the local establishments meeting greater market demand and lining up for new products like yours?

‘The Romanian people are quite reluctant to change, preferring convenience and familiarity over making a statement. So they like to stick to what they know.  I think it will take us a little longer for people to try something else. But we are not giving up.’

The Sicilian 50-year-old brand, Caffè Moak, has been your breakthrough coffee product. How is it responding to the single-origin movement?

‘Moak has always kept up with the newest market trends, launching a mono-origin coffee this year in response to this particular shift. I believe that in a few years time, we will have some coffee-roasting factories here in Romania to meet the increasing demand. These small coffee roasters, who are creating single-origins at a slower pace, are in no way at the level of the Illy, Moak, Lavazza or Segafredo factories that have the ability to roast a large amount of consistently premium coffee. In Romania, Serbian brand Doncafé is also responding by creating some private blends. This shows that this desire for single-origin will be very important for the future of the industry here in Romania and eventually we could pride ourselves on a very good, locally-produced coffee.’

“Certainly at some point, the importer as well ourselves will be guided by this fresh direction towards philanthropy”

Including Italian-based Moak, you have a versatile range of top quality, well-established European brands covering all beverage types, like French 1883 Maison Routin syrups; UK ODK purees and German Althaus teas. Is there a strategy behind this brand selection?

‘The local importer we partner with chose to bring premium products into his portfolio, which also aligned with our market strategy of differentiation: providing a selection of superior and deferred products to the developing industry. Romanians are slowly becoming sophisticated in their tastes and preferences, and are opening up to new trends like the single-origin we discussed earlier.’

1883 Maison Routin, ODK, Althaus and Caffè Moak’s Regional Sales Manager, Lorand Imreh

Photograph by self via Facebook

And how do these products compare to those of Monin syrups, for example? What are their competitive advantages?

‘First of all, Monin against each of our products is radically different. Routin has invested heavily in their branding and sourcing of quality ingredients. The water, indigenous flora and fauna picked for their compositions, are found in the heart of the French Alps. The creator of these syrups, Philibert Routin, was a masterful herbalist and liqueur inventor. Compared to Monin, the syrups are less sweeter but are full of real flavours and complexity. It’s infamous vermouth, alone, has a blend of twenty-four plants and spices.

Like Routin, ODK in juxtaposition with Monin is a totally different product. ODK suits the new-age, purist audience with a bottle that is more ergonomic, and purees that are cold-pressed and naturally dense. Some products get up to 50% fruit pulp and all are gluten-free.’

Finally, we are seeing a growing trend of beverage companies expand into philanthropy: Monin sponsoring mixology competitions in Romania and Routin 1883 establishing an international training academy called Lab83 for coffee lovers and mixologists. Can you tell me more about Lab83 and where this new philanthropic trend may take the other brands in your portfolio?

‘Like every market player, Routin tries to refine skills of experienced bartenders and prepare newcomers. They showcase prestige, innovation and showmanship at their Lab83 academy, supporting the development of students who work with their products. Certainly at some point, the importer as well ourselves will be guided by this fresh direction towards philanthropy. We have positioned these new companies and their products well enough in the market to consider it. I personally see this approach of covering all aspects of the industry to be next level, and we must make it our key focus in order to keep up.’

Want to try some of these new flavours? We have a list of local places where you can take your first sip:

Moak coffee: British Pub

1883 Routin syrups: Kasho Lounge

ODK purees: Bistro de l’Arte

Althaus teas: Museum Bistro

Alex Bostan © Photo Credits: horeca experts, Twi Copy, Alan Gore, TripAdvisor, Conacul Bratescu


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