With Starbucks chalking out its India strategy along with the Tata Group, Indian retail chains are gearing up for the stiff competition in the near future. Barista Lavazza (earlier known as Barista), pioneered the café culture in India back in February 2000 when it kicked off its operations in the country. Since then there have been plenty of changes in the coffee retail market in the country.

In 2007, Barista was acquired by Lavazza, an Italian coffee retail giant, to form Barista Lavazza. Both Barista and Lavazza brands continue to co-exist. Going forward, will the company bank on this strategy or will it change course? To know more about its branding and marketing initiatives, EE spoke to R Shivashankar, Director South Asia, Lavazza.

Lavazza acquired Barista in 2007. What changes have happened since then?

The international strategy of the company is to leverage the global brand Lavazza. We want to introduce the brand to Indian customers through a smooth shift – from 100 per cent Barista to 50:50 Barista Lavazza to 100 per cent Lavazza.

The time so far has been quite satisfying and a learning for all of us. Since its inception, Barista has changed hands a couple of times but it has remained true to its objective of offering an exquisite coffee experience to its guests. Lavazza saw the same promise while they were in talks for acquiring the company to enter India. It was just a matter of time and our patrons must have realised now that even if Barista is now Barista Lavazza; the idea or the promise of delivering an authentic coffee experience has remained intact over the period. In fact, I feel happy that it perfectly matched the Lavazza philosophy to provide “a truly Italian coffee house experience” to our guests.

Like the parent company Lavazza, Barista Lavazza believes in enhancing customer experience and, with their slew of consumer engagement activities, bring customers closer to their favourite café chain and enhance the overall coffee drinking experience.

What are the factors that Lazazza keeps in mind before opening an outlet and how do they differ for your three formats – Lavazza, Barista Creme and Expresso Bar?

Since the time Barista Lavazza was born, customer satisfaction has been an integral part of us. Our efforts have been to offer something special to our guests while providing them with “A truly Italian Coffee House Experience”. An in-depth market analysis of the changing consumer tastes and preferences is conducted before launching any new offering in our outlets.

The Barista F&B menu has seen a lot of innovations. What strategy lies behind these changes?

Launching any new product or menu in the market is a major challenge. Modern retailing is all about directly having “first-hand experience” with consumers while giving them a warm and friendly environment that they would like to enjoy over and over again. All our launches are based on international trends, guest feedback and internal research.

We will continue to innovate along these lines and launch products that delight our guests. Our offerings are already accepted with a great response, and hence it’s our core responsibility to keep developing great products and offer the best of all to our guests.

What is the target group that you are reaching out to and how are you promoting yourself currently?

Barista Lavazza is positioned as the pioneer of the Indian café culture. We stand as the true symbol of rich and finest Italian culture and espresso coffee. Our guests are coffee lovers above the age of 25 years who are looking not just for a cup of coffee but beyond. Our chain of Espresso bars delivers an original Italian coffee experience in a warm, friendly, relaxed environment and we aim to provide a comfortable place for people to unwind over interesting conversations and a cup of coffee.

We have always believed that a visit to a Barista Lavazza Café is a complete experience for our customers, which is more than just to enjoy a cup of authentic Italian coffee. To go beyond, and provide our consumers with a unique experience, we have launched several annual properties over the years, which have been chosen keeping in mind our heritage, Italy and innovation, all of which go hand in hand with coffee. We are extremely delighted by the response each of our annual properties has received and thank our patrons for their support over the years.

The strategy hence clearly has been to engage the consumers with such things that the consumer is passionate about, and all this over a great cup of authentic Italian coffee.

Tell us about the various initiatives that Barista has undertaken to connect with customers on an on-ground level?

We have a number of initiatives in place such as the:

Click-a-Coffee - This is an annual property created around photography and coffee. Launched this year, this property had some very interesting photographic visions being shared with us, with the Lavazza cup being an intrinsic part of each picture. The culmination of the contest led to the top selected entries, judged by ace photographer Pradeep Dasgupta, finding a place in India's first coffee-table book of its kind.

Café Scrabble championship - This is another annual property around Scrabble. Re-introduced this year in our cafes, the scrabble championship too received a very good response from consumers and has again become extremely popular.

Association with Penguin book India - We tied up with Penguin Books India to launch books of celebrated Indian authors at a Barista Lavazza café and provide fans an opportunity to meet and greet their favorite authors.

Friendship Jam - A flagship annual property of Barista Lavazza, the Friendship Jam was started by us in 2008. Recognizing the importance of the Friendship day in the life of its patrons, we give our consumers an opportunity to play their music and share their artistic streak with us every year.

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