Captivated by coffee

Striving to always remain streets ahead of the competition, UCC Coffee UK & Ireland has perfected its total coffee solution model, placing continuous investment in the development of its workforce and technologies

Passion has been the defining trait of UCC Coffee UK & Ireland ever since the business began more than two decades ago. Combining real love for providing total coffee solutions with genuine UCC 139 beagerness to develop its staff, UCC Coffee UK & Ireland continues to prove its outstanding capabilities that has turned the company into a trusted partner of some of the largest multinational brands known to every self-respected shopper.

The UK and Ireland division of the Japan-based holdings company UCC Coffee has been part of the group since 2012. “It is a very large business that ranks at number seven in the world, when we talk about independent coffee volume businesses. At the time of the acquisition, the group had already positioned itself as a leader in the Asia-Pacific region, but it wanted to have more reach and become a global force,” UCC Coffee UK & Ireland’s Managing Director, Elaine Swift begins. “Prior to the acquisition by UCC Coffee, we were first bought by a private equity company around 2006, which also owned Gala Coffee at the time. In 2010, another private equity investor stepped in, having decided to join the two businesses, which was how our transformation into a total coffee solutions provider began.”

Total coffee solution does indeed mean total and nothing less, as Elaine explains. “We focus on literally every aspect of the coffee business – from sourcing and roasting the coffee, to providing the best coffee machines to our customers; giving them advice and providing category management based on data and actionable insights we collect all the time. We also take care of delivering exhaustive training to help our clients create an unforgettable experience for the consumers.

“As a business, we have three channels we operate within. First, it is retail. Then, we have out of home food service customers, such as Greggs, Compass Group, McDonald’s, Hotel Chocolat, and the like. Finally, we serve independent customers, mainly regionally, regardless of the size or the quantity of the outlets. Within these three channels, we have four revenue streams – equipment, coffee, service, and side products – everything that the customer needs to create a total coffee solution,” she reviews her business’ scope of action.

Strategic partners
Today, UCC employs nearly 8000 staff worldwide, 560 of which are based in the UK and Ireland, and runs 28 manufacturing plants. “One of these is our roasting plant in Dartford, for which we have got significant financial support from UCC that allowed us to invest in a roaster at the end of 2016,” Elaine notes. “This year, we are planning to increase our roasting capacity further, making sure that we have the latest in coffee roasting technology and can create points of difference via the investment we make.

“We work really close with our strategic partners on the equipment side including Thermoplan, Swiss manufacturer for automatic coffee machines, Nuova Simonelli, Italian manufacturer for traditional coffee machines and Brita for water solutions,” she continues. “For example, we have been the exclusive distributor for Thermoplan since 1996 and with their support, we have been able to make our equipment a market leader in the UK. About 18 months ago, we started using Thermoplan’s new compact machine, Black&White 4c, and later this year, we will receive the latest version of the coffee machine, which is going to be a transformational force in the market, in terms of coffee quality, consistency, and intelligence. As a market leader in operating professional bean UCC 139 cto cup machines, we are very excited about the next generation Black&White.”

UCC Coffee UK & Ireland’s Dartford facility handles around 10,000 tonnes of roasted coffee every year and can rightfully be described as the business’ manufacturing powerhouse. To make the business tick as a perfectly-oiled machine, however, the company runs technical workshops from its other two facilities – in Milton Keynes and Ireland. “Since we operate over 40,000 installed machines all over the UK and Ireland, we have set up a team of dedicated technicians that deliver preventative, predictive, and reactive maintenance to these machines,” Elaine discusses.

“In addition to 170 field engineers, a team of 60 engineers work in our technical workshops, supporting the field by conducting operations such as pre-delivery inspections and pressurevessel inspections. Recently, we have invested heavily in expanding and improving the technical workshop. For example, we introduced automation and new sonic washers to drive efficiencies and continuous improvement.”

New chapter
The upgrade Elaine refers to, is part of a £1.3 million investment the company has made in its headquarters in Milton Keynes. She clarifies the reasons for UCC Coffee UK & Ireland’s investment activity in this area. “We have been here since 2004 and the business has changed a lot in that time. In the first place, we really wanted to create a better working environment for our team to function. Secondly, we had the ambition to open a Coffee Works Centre of Excellence for training and education, which now is a reality and a SCA Premier Training Campus. We invested in new technology that allows us to push the live training we provide. We have created a whole video series of training and support materials for our customers to watch them over and over again. It has undoubtedly been an instrumental investment in bringing the Coffee Works programme alive,” Elaine enthuses.

Determined to keep abreast of the competition by making the most of the technological advancements that are presented to us literally every day, UCC Coffee UK & Ireland has also left space for a designated telemetry hub to obtain intelligence for the performance of the coffee machines. “We have to invest in data and insights, in order to monitor the standard of coffee quality and observe the way the customers look after the machines on-site. Naturally, we spend a lot of time analysing ongoing trends and consumer behaviour, too, so that we can give our clients the best advice that will allow them to keep their competitors at bay.

“All in all, it took us nine months to complete the refurbishment and during all that time, the team has been amazing. We were still operating from the site, while it was being under construction, and once it had been finished, we could see that it was very well-received by the staff, and also by our customers who regularly come to visit us. It is going to open a new chapter of our story,” Elaine trusts.

She energetically emphasises that taking good care of its people, is a principal task for the company and key to its success. “We have a very high employee engagement, about 90 per cent, when the industry average is less than 40 per cent. We rely on our employees to execute all the key everyday operations that keep the business running, apart from product distribution. This means that our task is to keep them happy. We believe that if our team members are motivated and feel valued, this will translate into good customer experience for our customers.

“I believe that we have already started to see the benefits of the learning and development initiatives we introduced last year. We have even appointed a Learning & Development Manager, which was a new role in our business. On average, we devote at least one week per year per employee to train our staff. We have a real desire to continue to strengthen the company and create blue sky between us and the competition through our people and business culture,” Elaine elaborates.

UCC Coffee UK & Ireland is part of UCC Europe, which also has operating companies in Spain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and France, and Elaine is certain that with the impending establishment of a closer collaboration between the entities under the wing of the wider group, more international opportunities will reveal themselves for the business in the future.

“Looking at the way the companies are changing and how the supply chains are becoming more joined-up geographically, I think that businesses that are structured in a way that enables them to add real value from a multi-country partnership perspective, will be the ones that will be the most successful.

“In our case, if we think about some of the customers we deal with in the UK, we will see that they are predominantly European or even global businesses, so serving these customers naturally takes us into other markets,” she reasons, singling out McDonald’s as a lucid example, stating that UCC Coffee UK & Ireland is the chain’s coffee supplier in a number of markets.

2017 ended as a milestone year for UCC Coffee UK & Ireland, as the business exceeded £100 million in net sales for the first time in its history. Having spoken with Elaine who vigorously provided us with a comprehensive overview of the way the company operates and treats its own staff and customers, it is plain to see why it has become a valued provider across the full spectrum of the coffee business. UCC Coffee UK & Ireland struck us as an attractive firm to be part of with the attention it demonstrates to the professional development of its employees and the enthusiasm with which it is flying to conquer even higher peaks. Given that the coffee market is hopefully guaranteed to remain buoyant for ever and ever (everybody loves coffee!), good times are on the horizon for UCC Coffee UK & Ireland