MICE Product Innovation Awards to launch product to the world stage

Innovation is at the heart of the coffee industry. Across the entire supply chain, ambitious minds explore strategies to improve flavour, increase productivity, and create better value for customers.

“Roasters, farmers, engineers, and everyone in between are on this collective journey to achieve perfection. Of course, there is no end to this pursuit; however, it is the journey that drives us. Innovation is what drives the market forward,” says Paul O’Brien, Australasia Area Manager, Rancilio Group.

The Melbourne International Coffee Expo’s (MICE) Product Innovation Awards
bring some of the brightest new products together under one roof to celebrate ingenuity
in the coffee industry.

“Melbourne is arguably one of the most mature and innovative coffee markets in the world. Winning a MICE Product Innovation Award speaks volumes globally,” O’Brien says.

“I’ve been lucky enough to work throughout Europe and America – everyone speaks so highly about the Australian market, particularly Melbourne. Being recognised on the Melbourne coffee scene holds extra weight.”

O’Brien experienced this firsthand with the launch of the Rancilio Specialty RS1, which finished runner-up in the 2019 MICE Product Innovation Awards. RS1 made its Australian debut at the same time as the exhibition. O’Brien says entering the competition was an ideal way to expose the product to an international audience.

“At Rancilio we stand for innovation. This is the role we play in the journey towards perfection. With RS1, our mission was to present something truly unique and innovative. Our cutting-edge brewing technology delivers world-class temperature stability and patented advanced temperature profiling empowers the barista with almost limitless flavour profiles,” O’Brien says.

“RS1 was developed by the industry, for the industry. We wanted to showcase it directly to the market and MICE was the perfect platform. The RS1 received a lot of interest and positive attention after it featured in the awards.”

Following MICE, Rancilio offered the machine to the open market to trial. O’Brien says Rancilio attracted considerable curious people in the coffee industry wanting to test the machine’s innovative features for themselves.

“It was really important for us to showcase at MICE. It gave us the platform to launch our product and we have since taken the RS1 overseas to Europe and America,” he says.

“At Rancilio, we talk about innovation all the time. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to us as a brand to present at these awards and receive a positive reaction.”

The MICE Product Innovation Awards are split into four categories: coffee preparation equipment, ancillary electrical equipment, coffee accessories, and specialty beverages.

During the judging, a panel of industry leaders adjudicate the entrants based on three factors: the product’s ability to create value for the industry and its customers, the design’s incorporation of sustainable materials or methods, and how the product contributes to the overall knowledge of the Australian coffee industry.

Contestants have between three to five minutes to demonstrate their product to judges, who will only visit a stand once. In addition to the innovation award, MICE attendees have an opportunity to cast their vote in a separate segment, the People’s Choice Award.

The prestige of the awards has risen over time as MICE has grown to become the largest dedicated coffee event in the Asia Pacific. Almost 12,000 people flocked to last year’s event and show organisers expect this to increase in 2020.

“MICE2020 is already a sell-out. There’s been an unprecedented demand for space and there will be a greater international presence than ever before,” says Lauren Winterbottom, Show Director at MICE.

“The expo brings people from all ends of the supply chain together in one place – from top industry decision-makers to local business owners.”

One such company is Ona Coffee, which experienced the momentum of winning MICE’s Product Innovation Award for its Ona Coffee Distributor (OCD). Former World Barista Champion (WBC) Sasa Sestic devised the idea for the OCD in 2012 and launched the first design in 2016.

The improved OCD 2.0 won the 2017 MICE Product Innovation Awards and has since expanded into international markets.

“After I won the WBC in 2015, Ona Coffee was cast into the international spotlight. At first, many people around the world just wanted to try our coffee and the coffee I used for my WBC performance. After the awards, people began to see all the innovative things we were developing,” Sestic says.

“It happened quite naturally and now we work with distributors all across the world to share the OCD tool.”

The OCD is a device created to evenly distribute coffee for preparation as espresso. It’s designed to minimise the risk of channelling and coffee being over- or under-extracted, a result of uneven distribution. The second edition also features an adjustable base and an adjustable locking mechanism.

Sestic says launching the second version of the OCD just before MICE was a strategic, if not fortunate, decision.

“MICE is our nation’s largest celebration of coffee and the specialty coffee industry, so we saw immense value in entering its awards program. We attend MICE every year and to receive this award in front of our friends and colleagues was unforgettable,” Sestic says.

He adds that winning the MICE Innovation Award set off a chain of events for Ona Coffee. Several Ona Coffee employees won their respective barista and brewers competitions and the team travelled to Seoul, South Korea to compete in the World Barista Championships.

“Winning the award was a real confidence boost for us. It is one thing to have a product, be proud of it, and share it across the world, but it is quite special to receive praise from your peers and friends. We put so much effort into it over years to make it accessible and easy to use. The award is something we’ve held onto since,” Sestic says.

The Ona Coffee team has been collaborating with Zurich University of Applied Sciences’ Coffee Excellence Centre, headed by Professor Chahan Yeretzian, to continue to improve the product.

The OCD is now in its third iteration. The OCD V3 incorporates lighter material and has a lower centre of gravity, as well as Ona Coffee’s patented static-reducing coating.

“We are working with Professor Chahan and his team to find the best shape and material to minimise negative compounds while achieving full extraction of desired compounds. Using the OCD, we can now proudly say that we can reduce negative acids and compounds in coffee,” Sestic says.

“We definitely feel that the MICE Innovation Award has helped us to keep researching and has given us credit to reach out to universities to continue improving our tool.”

As Sestic continues to seek innovative methods to improve his product, he reflects on his experiences at MICE and encourages people to use the expo as a platform to expand.

“2020 will be the fourth year in which Ona Coffee has been exhibiting at MICE and we have seen the expo grow immensely. We love being amongst the leaders and inspiring individuals of our industry. It helps us to grow and inspires us to do what we love,” he says.

“We absolutely encourage people and businesses to use MICE as a platform to grow. Australia has one of the most innovative and energetic specialty coffee scenes in the world. To showcase a product at this event is really special and can lead to all sorts of opportunities.”

MICE2020 will take place from 4 to 7 May at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

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