The coffee business is hot especially espresso. From multi-national fast food chains and service stations to street-corner coffee carts, a lot of new players want in on the boom.
Big companies are moving in on the supply of branded espresso coffee and the battle is heating up in the capital.
Auckland may be Latte-Land, but is Wellington, with more cafs per capita than New York City, the real coffee capital of this nation?
Wellingtonians certainly like to believe so, jests Eric Heycoop who, with wife and business partner Miriam, owns and operates Emporio the fourth largest coffee roaster and supplier by volume in Wellington.
Here most people are very discerning; they will walk four or five blocks to go to the place they prefer.
The Heycoops know all about Wellingtons coffee business. After more than 12 years owning two very successful espresso focused cafes in the CBD, they set up the Emporio roastery in 2000.
We have always wanted to roast coffee and own a brand as opposed to just a business.
Although Emporio is a small company, it has been a significant investment. Relocating the roastery to purpose-renovated premises in Able Smith Street last year cost more than $500,000. Thousands more have been invested in the brand.
Its taken four years of incredibly hard work to get profitable, admits Heycoop. Its bloody competitive here. All up there are now eight or nine roasters in Wellington.
There is, however, a common philosophy based on quality and each brands image and taste profile he says.
The current market is certainly sustainable for the number there is now but I dont know about any more. Probably the biggest competition we all face is from overseas companies that are coming in and buying business with free this and that even if the coffee tastes appalling.
Heycoop is confident that the quality roasters will withstand this competition because they are passionate about what they do; and consumers are more discerning.
He sees similarities to the sophistication of the wine industry. Once people drank simple wines, now they are extremely brand conscious and have strong preferences. We are seeing the same with coffee.
So does the brand of espresso make a difference?
Absolutely, says Heycoop. We see a significant increase in sales every time a caf starts using our branded consumables.
He also sees the advent of big chains offering espresso as positive. We see them as educating more people who will want to move on to better quality and other tastes.
And are there too many cafes in Wellington?
Its almost ridiculous but the amount of business nowadays conducted in cafes is huge and its not just a white-collar thing, Heycoop points out. Guys building the new by-pass come into our espresso bar for trays of lattes, he adds, and they are very discerning. If you were told five years ago that a tar-seal truck driver drinks a trim latte with a shot of vanilla youd have laughed.
Heycoop says coffee roasting is a great business once you get past a critical volume but you must be smart. We are careful with new accounts and keep close to our clients so we know whats happening. You must have a strong brand, a great taste, a good training programme and excellent technical support.
The Heycoops confidence in their continuing success is reflected in the recent buy-outs by Cerebos Greggs