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Allpress Coffee quest for international expansion through community integration

Thirty years ago, the words “Allpress Coffee” and “espresso” had very little meaning in New Zealand. Today, these words have become synonymous with a great cup of coffee, and Allpress Coffee has turned into an international brand and powerful roasted coffee bean distribution business. 

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With over 800 tons of green beans sourced direct from origin and distribution across everywhere from the UK to Singapore, Allpress Coffee has helped usher in an espresso revolution across two different hemispheres.

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What started out with an espresso cart and paper cups turned into a one of the most successful boutique coffee bean distributors in the world. Allpress Coffee’s signature roasted coffee beans can be found in hundreds of coffee shops around the world, as well as in the homes of hundreds of satisfied coffee lovers.

So, how did Michael Allpress pull it off?

Michael Allpress’s success is not a series of lucky events. Allpress Coffee is a narrative of how the right idea at the right time can blossom into an international brand. It has to do with establishing both local and international communities of coffee suppliers, coffee shops, and ultimately, coffee lovers.

Coffee is so deeply intertwined in creative and entrepreneurial culture, and Allpress Coffee blends these two elements in an effortlessly distinctive way. Read on to find out more about how Michael Allpress did it, and the type of execution it takes.

The story

Allpress Coffee defines itself as a “coffee roaster and espresso specialist,” but it is naturally much more than that. Founded in New Zealand in 1986 with a single coffee cart, it has since expanded its roasteries to Auckland, Dunedin, Sydney, Melbourne, London, Singapore, and Tokyo.

Michael Allpress

What started as a fascination with Seattle’s espresso culture, Michael Allpress turned into an end-to-end coffee bean roasting and espresso business, further honing the exploration of roasting techniques and flavors for over thirty years.

By bringing the relatively unfamiliar espresso drink into the New Zealand market, Michael Allpress was able to establish himself as a pioneer and authority figure in the New Zealand espresso industry.

Soon enough, this fresh approach to flavor started garnering attention from local cafes and restaurants across New Zealand. Allpress’s approach to flavor paired with the first mover advantage gave him a foundation to build a business outside of traditional coffee serving.

In 2000, Allpress took the first bold step to becoming an international brand by expanding into Australia with the help of Michael’s lifelong friend and well-known Sydney restaurateur, Tony Papas. With a successful expansion across the Tasman, Allpress could be found as a local roaster in both Sydney and Melbourne.

It took a little over a decade for Michael and Tony to expand shop in the UK into the Shoreditch neighborhood in 2010. With the support of London locals and cafe owners, the new Allpress expansion thrived. There is still an Allpress Espresso Bar in Shoreditch, which serves as a home base for the Allpress expansion.

In 2014, Allpress opened another Allpress Roastery & Cafe (their sixth) in Kiba, Japan. After years of monitoring Tokyo’s emerging espresso culture, Allpress decided to move into town by setting up shop in a beautifully restored old timber warehouse.

The idea

There’s no business like coffee business.

When Michael Allpress first started out, his business had two directions it could have gone:

  • The first, was to solely expand into retail locations, and open himself to a highly competitive market of coffee shops.
  • The second, was to focus on roasting his own brand of coffee and distributing it to local coffee shops.

Allpress, however, took a hybrid approach and built a brand around his coffee distribution by creating a handful of his own Allpress Coffee and Roastery locations.

allpress coffee warehouse

In order to understand how Allpress Coffee landed such tremendous success as a distributor in a highly competitive coffee industry, we must first make ourselves familiar with the coffee shop business model.

So, how do coffee shops make money? Behemoths such as Starbucks have the luxury of being able to expand and scale under one brand, and invest into marketing efforts that justify spending $7 on a latte. No matter where someone goes, they can rely on the consistent experience a giant like Starbucks can offer.

Michael Allpress, whose obsession with espresso started in Starbucks hometown of Seattle, capitalized on creating a consistent and international brand. But instead of opening up his own distribution centers, he created a network of local coffee shops that were willing to serve his products.

Local coffee shops don’t have the heavyweight advantage of attracting newcomers. They also tend to cater to a hipper, more indie crowd, and packing their favorite local cafe isn’t often in their best interests. Not to mention the velocity of customers in local coffee shops isn’t very contingent to massive growth. For these local, smaller coffee shops, staying in business is a priority, and expansion is likely out of the question.

With each expansion of a new coffee shop, Allpress Coffee created a billboard for its products that attracted local coffee shops wishing to carry the Allpress brand. By doing so, Allpress was able to approach local coffee shops with a friendly familiarity of the local market without appearing like a foreign entity trying to push their product into new markets.

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The execution

At the heart of the Allpress story is the desire to learn everything about the entire process from end-to-end. Michael Allpress describes his coffee origins:

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I was about 29, 30, travelling through Seattle and saw this mobile espresso cart that a Boeing engineer built. I thought, That’s a good idea. I moved back to New Zealand, got a government grant, borrowed money off my dad and was in business. I was always obsessed with flavour and started researching not only coffee, but coffee-roasting equipment too. I bought a roaster out of Sydney, dragged it home and rebuilt it. That’s where I learned my craft. It wasn’t long before I started approaching a few restaurants and had created a little wholesale distributing business."

By using this knowledge and opening itself to an entirely new market demand of coffee shops wanting to serve Allpress products, rather than attempting to stifle the competition with their premium flavors, Allpress was able to further establish itself as an authority figure and usher in the espresso revolution wherever it went.

Allpress was not only known for creating a great product, he was also known for his willingness to provide lessons to local coffee shops about optimal brewing techniques and ensure people were ultimately getting the best experience out of his coffee. This desire to work with local coffee shops can also be seen as an investment in not only the local community, but also an investment in the ultimate success for the espresso and Allpress Coffee lover community worldwide.

The method to Allpress’ successful international distribution

An attraction to the espresso flavor quickly turned into obsession and brought Michael Allpress to source his own beans and begin roasting coffee. By cutting out the middleman in the production process, Allpress was able to ensure complete control over the quality of his coffee. By controlling his supply and distribution, Allpress was able to provide a product and service to coffee shops across all of New Zealand, and in due time, the world.

In coffee roasting, the age of the beans plays a huge role in the ultimate end-product. In order to successfully expand, coffee roasters have to be able to establish good working relationships with local sources of coffee beans to ensure they have consistent access to a fresh source of beans.

Allpress’s dedication to their supply has been an integral component of their success. Certain Fairtrade restrictions bar a lot of coffee roasters from excelling in high quality standards, but by creating his own in-house system, Allpress secured both the quality of his brand and ensured that the growers still received a fair deal as well.

Allpress coffee roaster

Instead of relying on a distributor to source their coffee beans, Allpress invests the time to visit small farms, estates, and co-ops that meet their high standards of sustainable management and agriculture practice. This involves visiting farmers, millers, and exporters in different coffee growing regions.

These trips were not your typical suit, tie, and clipboard supplier distribution trips. Allpress team members talk to the pickers and processors and taste the annual crops for body, aroma, and flavor, as well as took the time to create a friendly familiarity over a meal or, fittingly, a cup of coffee.

By forming direct relationships with the growers, Allpress invests in the coffee bean supply community. Allpress would then connect their suppliers to an active market of people who will enjoy their beans after roasted, all under the Allpress banner.

Final thoughts:

While Allpress Coffee has expanded all over the world, their vision and culture remains the same: “be the best we can be as a coffee roaster and espresso specialist”. With team members that have been around for over 18 years, the Allpress culture was able to spread across the world.

What ultimately made Allpress a lasting success was their dedication to creating long-term and personal relationships. With simple, efficient decision making rooted in simplicity, Allpress was able to share its vision and experience with both the coffee shops using their coffee, as well as patrons in their own coffee shops.

The initial approach of selling coffee on the side of the street served as a validation for the concept that New Zealand would respond well to espresso. This validation not only gave Allpress the confidence to invest further into the vision, but it also served as tangible evidence of demand for local coffee shops looking to carry Allpress roasts.

By opening up landmark coffee shop locations in each city they chose, as opposed to a lackluster office headquarters, Allpress has created billboards for the Allpress experience.

By focusing on distributing their coffee beans to other local coffee shops, Allpress was able to invest in the espresso and coffee lover community.

Allpress’s process for investing in the espresso and coffee lover community was to create personal relationships with their suppliers, coffee partners, and customers. These personal relationships have helped Allpress carry its brand, vision, and experience beyond borders and become a pivotal figure in the international coffee community.

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