Iris Group has grown quickly to become a Singaporean success story. It speaks to Global Coffee Report about solving a gap in the coffee capsule market, and its commitment to offering quality and consistency with flexible solutions.
Every business begins with a dream, and for Iris Group it was to “provide a modern and professional localised capsuling service for Asia”.
Iris Group’s Managing Director Giorgio Vergano says he and the company’s founders saw a gap in the Asian market as coffee capsules were gaining popularity.
“There were only capsuling services [operating] in Europe and Australia, but nothing on an industrial scale, using the proper tools, with the proper equipment, was set up in Asia. The demand for capsules was growing. It was already very high [in other parts of the world] but Asia was in its very first steps,” Vergano says.
“We wanted to be one of the first players in the Asia market.
“I had quite extensive experience working in the coffee sector in Italy, Germany and Vietnam prior to Singapore. I decided, together with the founders of the company, to set up Iris Group in Singapore [because Singapore is] probably the best commercial hub for all of Asia that can provide a proven quality and safety standard recognised in all Asian countries.”
Fast-forward several years and Iris Group is one of the leading capsule manufacturers in Asia, providing the latest generation of Nespresso and Dolce Gusto capsules that are produced under a protective nitrogen atmosphere using the latest technologies.
The company prides itself on producing consistent capsules in a market Vergano says isn’t always known for its reliability.
“Consistency and quality are the main things [we focus on] when we’re talking about capsules,” he says. “Because in the Asian market [at the time], even in Europe, compatible capsules were being treated as a very low value product, and therefore [often had] very poor quality and consistency.
“In Asia in particular at the time, the few capsules available in the market were all hand-sealed, giving very low consistency, and therefore there was no quality standard.
“We brought to Asia a different perspective. All the capsules that come out of Iris Group meet the highest quality standards. We use nitrogen throughout the whole process, from the moment we grind the coffee beans to the sealing of the capsules. We provide the consistency required by consumers, together with the needed manufacturing speed to ensure short production lead times.
“Our company, in a very short time, has grown to become the reference point for capsules in Asia, thanks to our flexibility and our continuous journey to help our clients to find the right solution for their products in capsules.”
One early example of Iris Group’s ability to find solutions to complex problems was the development of a single-serve version of Singapore’s traditional brew ‘kopi’, in which coffee beans are typically roasted with butter, margarine and sugar.
These multi-faceted layers of production proved a challenge when Iris Group was approached to create a capsule version of the iconic coffee.
“About a year after we started operations, in about 2017, we were asked to produce capsules of the local Singapore coffee,” says Vergano.
“[At the time] it was just impossible for this style of coffee to work in capsules – we were scratching our heads [asking] ‘why does this not work’?”
Vergano says Iris Group worked for several months on research and development ideas, until it eventually came to the solution.
“We were the first producer able to make kopi – the name of the local coffee – in coffee capsules,” he says.
It was a process that Vergano says showcases Iris Group’s commitment to continual improvement – a commitment that involves mountains of research and development, not just within the company, but together with clients, too.
“Iris Group is always very close to our clients – we don’t just consider them customers, we consider them our partners,” he says.
“We do a lot of research and development together. Iris Group is not just a company that provides a service, but one that is behind our clients, supporting them, testing new technologies, providing new solutions and products.
“The capsule market is very vibrant and things change quickly. You often have new capsules coming out, you have new materials being used, and we are on top of everything that’s available. We can provide new solutions very quickly, to improve the quality and final product.”
Vergano says the company learns as much as it teaches, including from its clients.
“Every time there is something new, or there is something difficult, that is learning for us,” he says.
“We have built a very solid background of knowledge on capsules [and the] products that go into the capsules. This has been done with a lot of work together with our clients.
“This has given Iris Group a leading position in the market to be able to prepare Nespresso and Dolce Gusto capsules for specialty coffee roasters that usually require a very high degree of perfection and taste profiling, to ensure the exact aroma of their coffee is brewed when preparing the capsules.”
This ability to learn and develop modern solutions to complex problems can be seen in the capsules that Iris Group produces, and in the way the company focuses on sustainability while doing so.
“We have gone through stages of different offerings and we have always believed in sustainability and in trying to help the environment,” Vergano says.
“We started with plastic capsules that were in foil in a pouch, as that was the only available solution at the time. We were the first company in Asia to offer compostable capsules – we worked very hard with the capsule manufacturers to offer this product in Asia, and in 2018 we launched the first compostable capsules. At the beginning, they were still packed into a pouch – we even had a compostable pouch. Then we moved to compostable oxygen barrier capsules without a pouch.”
Today, after years of improvement in the materials and technologies of making the capsules, the company says it offers the most advanced compostable capsules which are home compost-certified. In addition, Iris Group offers fully recyclable aluminium capsules as part of its single-serve range. These aluminium capsules are one of the few in the market not to have a PVC layer, and are produced in the same factory that makes the original Nespresso capsules.
Iris Group has also ventured into a new era of capsules that can be used not only for coffee but for tea leaves, chocolate, and milk powders.
This commitment to flexibility, quality, consistency, and initiative is what Vergano believes will be key to the continuous growth of Iris Group in the capsule market, including its international expansion.
“We already have a strong name in Asia, but we need to look beyond our capabilities we want to target other regions of the world,” he says.
“We already have some clients in North America and Europe, which have given us the idea that we shouldn’t be looking only at Asia. We can also reach out to different parts of the world.
“We are confident in our production and we are confident in our quality. We are now at a level that we can open up to different markets.”
For more information, visit iris-group.sg
This article was first published in the January/February 2024 edition of Global Coffee Report. Read more HERE.