Head barista

Supplying coffee products to the UAE market for the past three years, BonCafé has seen business grow, with the hospitality sector now accounting for around 90% of its business.

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By  Lynne Nolan Published  October 26, 2006

|~|BILLINGHAMBODY.jpg|~|"Word of mouth from food and beverage managers has created a domino effect for us, so business is on an upward slope, steeper than Ski Dubai,” comments Tony Billingham, CEO, BonCafé. |~|Supplying coffee products to the UAE market for the past three years, BonCafé has seen business grow, with the hospitality sector now accounting for around 90% of its business. Starting out with just three members of staff, the company now boasts a 21-strong team. This is expected to increase to 26 by the end of the year, as the company hopes to hire more coffee technicians. “The influx of hotel chains to the Middle East has been a catalyst for the company’s growth. Word of mouth from food and beverage managers has created a domino effect for us, so business is on an upward slope, steeper than Ski Dubai,” comments Tony Billingham, CEO, BonCafé. “The backbone of our business is all of the hotels that are opening, so we have to make bids with special blends created just for them,” Billingham comments. Not just wanting to offer fresh roast and ground coffees only, Billingham also believes it is important that outlets offer guests a range of beverages, and in order to cope with the increased competition and need to expand its product portfolio, the company recently appointed an in-house mixologist to develop specialty coffees and original brews, as well as oversee clients’ training on how to recreate the drinks. “Our mixologist produces tailor-made hot and cold beverages for hotels and independent cafés. For example, she can create a cheesecake latte using chocolate sauce, cherry syrup, cheesecake syrup and ice. This is as well as us producing a string of innovative products for different sizes of cups; we offer a very hands-on approach,” Billingham explains. Extending its menu and recipe development service from, “traditional methods through to 500 cups of coffee an hour”, Billingham believes it is now a prerequisite for coffee companies to offer clients the skills to compete with some of the larger conglomerates. However, as some hotel staff do not know how to serve an espresso, BonCafé offers training sessions to educate staff on the history of coffee, cleaning procedures, how to become a barista, and latte art. Boasting six vans for its regional distribution network, the company sends its technicians to transport the coffee products to customers within the UAE, as well as ensure that the equipment is maintained and working correctly. ||**|||~|bonbody.jpg|~|Employing trained mixologists and botanists is just one component of the company’s efforts to stand apart from its competitors.|~|Also, in order to up its service levels and cater to the rising demand for Italian coffee in the emirates, the company recruited an Italian botanist to oversee the monthly production of 95,000kg of the company’s Espressa brand. Employing trained mixologists and botanists is just one component of the company’s efforts to stand apart from its competitors. In essence, Boncafé has had to be able to offer high quality Arabica and Robusta coffee beans at competitive prices, and since the company’s inception, has tried to maintain this. Part of this has been possible due to the company operating its roasting facility in Thailand. “The production costs in Thailand are low, and we buy our coffee directly from the farmers rather than a European supplier, so we are not being affected by the euro,” explains Billingham. However, he anticipates an increase in coffee prices due to a rise in the cost of foil packaging. But despite this, the low production costs of its first facility in Thailand — which is staffed by 150 employees — has led to plans to open another roasting facility just outside Bangkok. Business at BonCafé does not stop there, and boasting a 2000ft² warehouse in the Rashidiya area of Dubai, Billingham also oversees BonEquip, the company’s beverage equipment division. “We can provide a complete supply and design service, from the beverage counter and the ice machine, to cups and cappuccinos,” he says. Supplying a range of high-end machines, from brands such as La Marzocco, Jura, Rancilio and Egro, the company also offers a range of coffee pods available in single serving discs in Hawaiian, Jamaican Blue Mountain, Columbian and Costa Rican varieties. And offering ongoing training to its customers, including the Dusit Dubai Hotel, Shangri-La , the Jumeirah Group and the Fairmont Hotel in Dubai, BonCafé is looking to expand. With its central office and service centre at its Al Garhoud premises, Billingham also plans to open branch offices in Abu Dhabi, Doha, Muscat and Bahrain in 2007. Already supplying its products to Jordan, Oman and Yemen, future markets include Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. “We are currently looking at emerging markets. We have the volume to do this, and I believe that we also have the scope to go from here to Europe as well,” comments Billingham. Although expansion plans and new product lines are on the cards for BonCafé, Billingham emphasises that the need to keep an eye on the competition, and continue to raise the bar. “If any competitors come close to the standards we are setting, then I’ll move one step ahead. The whole idea is not to have to go to the high street, but rather to give the hotels the necessary tools to contend with the high street,” Billingham adds. ||**||

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