With over 100 years of being in the business, 42 stores across Chennai and 250 ‘Shop-in-Shop’outlets in big supermarkets and 300 distributors all over India, Venu Srinivasan, the Managing Director of Leo Coffee shares with us the company’s journey.
1) Leo Coffee has created a Niche for itself in the world of beverages..Share with us the journey.
My family has been engaged in the coffee business since 1910 when great grandfather began coffee trading with the European missionaries, who owned most of the coffee estates those days in the palani hills ( near Kodaikanal). He and his sons slowly bought out coffee estates from the British and French missionaries and soon they owned more than 2000 acres of coffee estates and also established a thriving coffee retail business in Trichy named as Josephs coffee. My grandfather, Mr. PRK Baskaran, not satisfied with the plantation business, had a vision to start a coffee retail company in Chennai. Hence in 1971, he came to Mylapore in Chennai and bought out a large house on south mada street and set up an office and a small coffee roasting unit and opened the first Leo Coffee store. His number one priority was quality and soon hardcore mylapore coffee lovers flocked in large numbers prompting him to open more stores in T.Nagar, West Mambalam, Triplicane etc. By 1985 he has taken it to 14 stores in the city. By the late 80’s my dad Mr. B Srinivasan took over and took the store count to more than 35 and set up a world class factory in Chennai and started exporting of raw coffee as well. I joined the business in the year 2008 and Leo coffee today has 42 own outlets, 200 shop in shops and over 300 distributors all over south India and parts of North. We now also export to 7 countries and also have a e-commerce platform which will soon ship customers worldwide. It has indeed been an incredible journey for the brand Leo and all of us involved at each stage. Things keep changing and we embrace change but our values have not changed over the last 100 years.
2) Leo coffee has started catering to the Instant coffee segment. Was it market pressure?
As pointed out, we are an aspiring Pan India company and growing rapidly. Instant coffee market share is more than 60% in India and its only natural that we would like to have presence here. We have a great brand recall and launching a good quality instant coffee has been in our mind for sometime now. Hence it’s a product extension which we believe would give us a lot of traction for growth. We would also be aggressively growing our filter coffee brands nevertheless. Quality is always are USP.
3) How big is your coffee processing unit? Where is it located? Take us through the laborious process of making coffee!
Our coffee processing and roasting factory is near Tambaram, Chennai. It’s a centralized facility where all our coffees get processed and packed. Coffee processing is an art and science. Every step is complex and needs expertise. We have some of the most state of the art machinery from Germany, Swiss and India. Our production team is vastly experienced and some of the senior members have been with us for over 30 years.
4) How do you manage to give consistent quality?
Quality consistency starts with the procurement of the best raw coffee beans in the country. We source all our coffee from the best coffee growing tracks like Coorg, Hassan, Chikmangulur, Baba Budengiri. We then process them using the best machinery in the world and the best manpower to back that up who are experienced and skilled. More than anything it’s our passion to serve a great cup of coffee every time to the customer. It’s a way of life for all of us.
5) How do you think the consumption pattern of coffee has changed over the years in India?
Consumption patterns have surely changed over the last 25 years. All the new growth and new customer base comes from the youth of India who are embracing the coffee culture at Cafes, office vending machines and finally their homes. Out of home consumption is surely growing faster than “at home”. However the traditional coffee drinking community of the south is still very strong and still forms a major chunk of the coffee market.
6) With a lot of foreign players venturing into india, how does the future look like? Will madras filter coffee lose its market place?
Its good to have foreign coffee players come to India as it exposes us to international trends and practices. There is absolutely no treat to Madras filter coffee as it’s a cultural icon in India. The Indian palate loves filter coffee and no amount of globalization can take this away. In fact most global brands have or will have filter coffee is their menu as they adapt to the Indian market. If Mcdonalds can have an Aloo Tikki Burger, its because they adapt to the Indian Palate. Similarly our filter coffee cannot be ignored ever.
7) Are you looking to expand ?
Yes. We are and will expand rapidly. We will be Pan India within 2 years and look at exports to many countries. We also want to ship worldwide trough our e commerce platform.
8) How has the response been for your online coffee shop (e-Commerce site)?
E-Commerce response has been excellent so far. We ship Pan India and will ship worldwide soon. Our website traffic grows 30% month on month and we are also present in almost all market place sites and online grocery sites. E-commerce is the future of India and we firmly believe e-commerce will drive our daily life very soon.
9)How big is the coffee consumption market in india ?
India Consumes 1.20 lac tons of coffee annually out of the 3 lac tons it produces. The balance 1.8 tons is exported as raw coffee. Indian coffee consumption is growing at 6% annually and soon within 10 years, we might be consuming all 3 lac tons of coffee which will make us a net importer.
10) Leo Coffee’s commercial music was scored by the legendary A.R.Rahman. A few thoughts on that.
The legendary A.R.Rehman Jingle happened in the early 90’s. Mrs. Sharada Trilok and Mr. Trilok Nair produced the jingle and the film. It was an award winning creative and soon Mrs. Trilok, who is also Mr. Mani ratnam’s cousin introduced Rehman to Mr.Mani and the rest is history!.
11) The coffee industry of India is the 6th largest producer of coffee in the world. Do you export?
We do export but only our branded and packed coffees. We don’t do bulk raw coffee exports. We export mainly to the US, Singapore, Australia , Middle East etc.
12) Any closing thoughts! Is there an interesting coffee story that you would like to share with us?
Coffee will always push the human creatively and innovation forward. Intellect and coffee go hand in hand and some of the worlds greatest inventors, scientists, poets, and icons have been and will be coffee drinkers. Hence its safe to say that coffee will help push the human race forward!.