Ima Coffee: A one-stop shop

While Ima Coffee now caters for the entire coffee production process – from green coffee intake to cartoning – the Italian manufacturer’s first step into coffee was with pod and capsule filling machines. Sales Director Nicola Panzani says this type of machinery is still a core component of what Ima Coffee offers the coffee industry.

“Single serve is where we started and how we entered the coffee sector. It’s almost like the heart of our business,” Panzani says.

“When you are a manufacturer, you’re not just selling machines, you need to be a competent partner and consultant to your customers. We see uncharted potential, trends, and where the market is going, so we can suggest to our customers where they can invest if they are unsure themselves.”

The Ima Coffee Packaging business unit boasts a wide portfolio of single serve packaging equipment, with solutions catered to every possible product format, production capacity, and need of the customer. Panzani says Ima can count on a widespread sales organisation, through which they gain a broad overview of the industry and its constantly changing demand.

“Our customers go from the top industry players to the medium and even small roasters, even offering a dedicated line of shop roasters for the smaller businesses,” he says. “What’s small now may be big in the future, and we don’t want to miss that part of the industry.”

Also helping Ima stay on top of trends are strong relationships with many of the companies that supply capsules and packaging materials in general. Panzani says this means Ima and its customers can take advantage of newer environmentally conscious materials as they become available, adding sustainability to the many benefits single serve products offer.

“Pods and capsules are easy to use, well preserved and last a long time with no impact on coffee quality. Most importantly, [they are] ideal for the home market,” he says.

When COVID-19 hit hospitality segments around the world, many roasters pivoted from their typical foodservice market to retail and direct-to-consumer sales channels. Ima experienced this through a peak in orders for retail-oriented packaging.

“COVID has impacted product categories, which were actually growing very strongly, the most effected being HoReCa and whole bean packaging, but this has led to a growth in products related to retail segments – mainly single serve coffee,” Panzani says.

“Having a diversified portfolio addressed to a variety of sales channels makes a company stronger and more resilient when facing shakes in the market like COVID-19.”

Constant market demand changes have also led to a need for extreme flexibility. To that end, Ima Coffee Packaging, supported by IMA research and development experts, has just launched the new Unika, a modular filling and sealing machine capable of processing 600 capsules per minute. Designed to be flexible, the Unika can be adapted with custom-made solutions for almost any type of product guaranteeing maximum accessibility and efficiency.

Particularly this year, the quest for flexibility has been a leitmotiv in the whole production chain. “Being able to provide machines in a short delivery time has been crucial this year, with high demand and customers needing their machines as soon as possible. The modular design facilitates a quick engineering phase and reduced lead time,” Panzani says.

Ima is focusing on several more machines, in both packaging and processing, coming down the pipeline. The company also plans to launch a full pilot plant by the start of 2021 that will showcase all of its technology throughout the coffee production process. There, potential customers will be able to test the individual components Ima can offer, or the whole system.

“When producing single serve products, it takes more than just a good filling and sealing machine. There are many steps in the process that go before it, and it is important to face any demand from a holistic perspective of the entire process,” Panzani says.

“As Ima, we are the only manufacturer in the world with a portfolio that covers the entire coffee production process with any packaging option.”

Ima Coffee Petroncini is the brand behind Ima’s prepackaging equipment. Joining the Ima family in 2018, Petroncini offers equipment ranging from green coffee intake to roasting, grinding, and degassing.

“The target of any coffee roaster offering single serve is a good brewed coffee in the cup. To do that, you need a filling machine that seals the capsule with a low level of oxygen to preserve the quality in the long-term. But that’s not enough,” Panzani says.

“You need the correct grind to fit the right amount of coffee in the capsule. You may need to degas the coffee to protect the seal, which is affected by both grinding and roasting. But before that, roast could affect the amount of gas and is fundamental to ensure the coffee quality and product consistency. The entire chain is linked, and you need to understand that to provide a good capsule to the end consumer.”

While Ima Coffee Packaging and Ima Coffee Petroncini run as two separate divisions from a technical point of view, an integrated sales network and customer service team means the manufacturer is able to provide a holistic solution to its customers.

“Different competencies and knowledge are required to design and produce equipment that covers different phases of the production cycle, but we make sure to ‘merge’  these two divisions through actions like our pilot plant and a technical committee with a precise aim to share know-how ,” Panzani says.

It is unclear when the effects of COVID-19 will subside, but it is unlikely the hospitality industry will snap back into where it was pre-COVID-19. Panzani says diversifying their products will help many businesses survive this crisis.

“We don’t know how long this situation will last, but we see from everyday numbers that what used to be one of the most important segments to roasters – cafés and HoReCa – is strongly effected,” Panzani says.

“In the meantime, the only way to approach the market is through innovative solutions, like online stores or home consumption, where pods and capsules are in high demand. It’s fundamental that companies looking to adjust their business model to the current situation invest in single serve.”

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