By Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo / Special to the BusinessMirror
FROM fashion to food.
Gokongwei-led Robinsons Retail Holdings Inc., which brought in top fashion and cosmetic brands, like Top Shop and Benefit, has expanded into the highly competitive food-and-beverage business with the opening of Costa Coffee.
In an interview with the BusinessMirror, Robina Gokongwei-Pe, president of Robinsons Retail, said the coffee business “is a good addition to our retail channels. And Filipinos are now more into specialty coffee, and the experience of having specialty coffee, hanging out in cafés and gossiping over coffee. It’s a lifestyle.”
The Philippines is the 31st country to host Costa Coffee, and the fourth in Southeast Asia, after Singapore, Thailand and Cambodia. Tagged as “No. 1 coffee chain in the United Kingdom,” Costa Coffee currently has about 2,000 coffee shops in the UK and more than 1,247 outlets around the world.
Under Robinsons Retail’s international distribution agreement with Costa Coffee, the company is committed to opening “five branches by the end of 2015, and 70 outlets in five years,” or by 2021, Gokongwei-Pe said. “The second one is in Robinsons Ermita, next month,” she added. This will be quickly followed by branches in Tera Tower [Bridgetowne, Quezon City], Bonifacio Global City and Robinsons Antipolo.”
The company is also considering expanding Costa Coffee branches outside Metro Manila, but “maybe, in its third year” of operations, she said.
Asked if there were any plans of further widening the F&B portfolio of Robinsons Retail, she said: “We’ll make sure this one works first. I have to focus on this first. I’m just not going to go into another [F&B business], without making sure we’ve got this down correctly.”
Why the affinity for UK brands? Gokongwei-Pe said she couldn’t explain it herself. “It just happened. I think we’re lucky with British brands.” In a press statement, UK Ambassador Asif Ahmad hailed the entry of the popular coffee brand in the Philippines: “Costa Coffee is very much part of British society. The arrival of this venture in the Philippines is not just good news for me, but also an opportunity for Filipinos to experience a little piece of Britain.”
In the first quarter 2015, Robinsons Retail posted a net profit of P822.3 million, up 31 percent from the same period in 2014. The company also operates Robinsons Supermarket, Handyman and True Value, AM Builders’ Depot, Ministop, South Star Drug, Toys “R” Us, and Daiso Japan. It also distributes Shiseido.
Costa Coffee serves its own coffee blend called Mocha Italia – a combination of seven Arabica and Robusta coffee beans grown in Latin America, Arabia-Africa, and Southeast Asia. At present, the company doesn’t buy beans from the Philippines.
Judd Williams, Costa Coffee’s Director for the Middle East and Asia, said the local food menu – such as the sandwiches, cakes, and cookies – were especially created for the Filipino palate, and as such, will not be found in any Costa Coffee outlet outside the Philippines.
“The food we developed for this market is what customers are looking for such as Western coffee shop sandwiches, with some local flavors like the ensaimada,” he said. “So yes, the food is completely different [from other countries].”
He said Costa Coffee also developed new iced beverages called “Frostino” especially for the local climate, aside from its range of hot coffees like the cappuccino, caffe latte, flat white, Americano, and espresso.
While he pointed out the flexibility of working with franchise partners to develop products appropriate for the local market, he nixed the possibility of using Philippine beans for local coffee concoctions. “Right now, we don’t have anything in our sights to develop a Philippine-sourced coffee because we believe the quality of the product that we offer which is fabulous, suits the climate very well.”
Costa Coffee was created in 1971 by two brothers – Bruno and Sergio Costa – migrants from Italy who couldn’t find good coffee anywhere in London at that time. The brothers, whose family business in Italy was coffee roasting, decided to pounce on this need in the market and created their own coffee blend. They first sold their product to local caterers, then soon after, opened their first café in London.
Williams noted how Costa Coffee is close to the hearts of many Filipinos, especially in the overseas markets.
He said with 400 outlets in the Middle East, most of their baristas are Filipino workers, with also a growing number in the UK, one of the major job markets for Filipinos in Europe. “Every cup of coffee served by Costa is handmade by only the best baristas in the industry. Each barista has been rigorously trained in various Costa Coffee Academies around the world, ensuring that they have the skill and precision to make the perfect cup of coffee time and again. It is this understanding of quality that sets Costa’s coffee apart from the others.”
He also underscored the brand’s Rainforest Alliance certification, which means the beans Costa Coffee buys are from farms that are managed strictly to protect the environment and its local communities, ensuring long-term sustainability.
Under The Costa Foundation, the company is also committed to “educating children in coffee-growing communities,” he added.