Pelican Rouge Coffee Roasters: Pursuit of perfection

For many businesses in the single serve market, 2012 was the year a large door of opportunity opened, when the patents on Nespresso and Keurig capsules expired. From that moment onwards, capsules production became a competitive market, with everyone wanting a piece of the action.

Rather than go in the same direction, Pelican Rouge Coffee Roasters decided to take a strategic position and develop ingredients for single serve use.  

“We are specialists in roasting coffee and composing ingredients for hot beverages,” says Jan-Paul Lommerse, Export Manager at Pelican Rouge Coffee Roasters in Dordrecht, the Netherlands.

“We develop coffee blends and supply tailor-made recipes based on soluble ingredients such as cocoa, coffee, instant coffee, milk powders, and ready-mixes such as cappuccinos, latte macchiato, and café au lait, to capsule filling companies using various capsule brands, including Nespresso, Dolce Gusto, Caffitaly and K-Cup.”

With such diversity in capsule production, quality is paramount, and it begins with Pelican Rouge’s commitment to providing quality ingredients that perfectly fit into any type of single portion capsule. 

“There are so many parameters that can influence in-cup quality. Particle density, dissolvability, and granulometry of the powder must be consistent,” Lommerse says. “The right particle size is key to fitting within the limited cavity in the brewing chamber of a capsule, and so that water can pass through soluble ingredients, build up pressure, and extract the beverage into the cup. This is a very technical process which is difficult to control.”

Lommerse closely links the art of ingredient granulometry to science. He says the technique Pelican Rouge uses to ensure consistent granulometry is “top secret”, but avoiding segregation of different ingredients in the capsule, like sugar, milk, or coffee powder, is key.

“Each of those ingredients has a different granulometry and our job is to level it. Cocoa powder, for instance, is very fine compared to milk powder, which you can buy in different qualities and granulometry, from fine to granulated. That’s where our knowledge and experience gives added value to the ingredients we work with,” Lommerse says.

“It’s about science and understanding the product you work with. For instance, you cannot mix freeze-dried coffee, which has a large particle size, with granulated milk and sugar, which some of our competitors started to do. The volume of this mix is huge, meaning you can only fit five grams of the mix into a Dolce Gusto capsule instead of the 10 to 12 grams that’s needed to make a decent coffee.”

This wisdom extends to the relationships Pelican Rouge holds with capsule filing companies who are mainly looking for “hassle-free ingredients”, and start-up businesses interested in entering the market.

Customers select from a range of coffees, including sustainable options, such as Fairtrade, Organic, and Utz and Rainforest Alliance. After roasting, coffee beans are packed under a modified atmosphere and supplied to capsule filling companies in large bags. These are put into dosing systems on top of capsule filling machines, with Pelican Rouge technicians on hand to ensure each capsule contains the same weight and recipe.

“As a consumer, if you buy a capsule, you want to be sure the coffee in the capsule will come out completely. That’s why it’s important we know the different capsules on the market and remain in close contact with the empty capsule producers to ensure we can develop the right product and provide the right ingredients,” Lommerse says.

Because of evolving market needs, Pelican Rouge constantly tests its ingredients with the various capsules on the market. It even asks capsule filling clients to test new-release models before they hit the market, to ensure their functionality and quality is at the highest standard.

Pelican Rouge has recipes for more than 110 coffee blends, 40 chocolate blends, 20 cappuccino-based drinks, like mixed coffee and milk, with or without sugar, and with or without aromas.

The most popular beverages are cappuccino, café latte, and café au lait – all mixes of coffee and milk in different ratios. As such, Pelican Rouge tailors recipes to meet local demands. In Spain, for example, consumers like to drink café cortado with a high percentage of coffee and less milk. Whereas in Eastern Europe, Lommerse says it’s a very price driven market. Therefore, Pelican Rouge develops different recipes with cheaper ingredients like skim milk instead of full fat milk, or a combination of both. 

One of the most rewarding parts of the job, Lommerse says, is watching the growth of customers, such as Euro Caps, one of Pelican Rouge’s first customers, and the first to start producing Nespresso-compatible capsules. The Netherlands-based company started from scratch and is now the largest capsule filling company globally next to Nestlé. It produces Nespresso and Dolce Gusto-compatible capsules to major retailers, mainly in Europe.

“From the very beginning we have collaborated together by developing coffee blends and soluble ingredients for their capsules,” Lommerse says. “We are very proud of this customer because we’ve helped each other to grow. Now they’re producing more than 1.4 billion capsules per year.”

And the market shows no signs of slowing, first because of the expiration of patents such as Nespresso and some of Dolce Gusto’s, changing consumer demand, and the current transition from the office coffee sector (OCS) to the home market. About 80 per cent of Pelican Rouge’s customers are in the OCS, with the rest private label solutions.

“We saw a significant drop in sales in the office coffee market, but the companies we supply our coffees and soluble ingredients to had a fantastic period because production increased for them in Q1 and Q2 due to the many people who used to work at the office now staying at home,” Lommerse says.

Pelican Rouge Coffee Roasters is part of the Selecta Group, Europe’s leading route-based unattended self-service retailer. It provides coffee and convenience food solutions in the workplace and in public spaces.

With more than 9000 employees and 250,000 customers spanning 16 countries, Selecta serves more than 10 million consumers each day on average, through its 460,000 points of sales across Europe.

The industry is recovering from the impact of COVID-19 and adapting quickly to the ‘new normal’, including Selecta, which is reacting to new developments in the market and working closely with global coffee brands.

“We closely follow the trends in the out-of-home and retail market, and develop new products accordingly for capsules and office coffee machines,” Lommerse says. “A large trend we’re seeing is consumers exchanging milk products for plant-based alternatives, and a reduced volume of sugar in their foods and drinks, which we’re accommodating for. We are also always looking for new flavours to offer consumers variety.”

Lommerse is excited about Pelican Rouge’s growth potential. It already has close relationships in Italy, France, and Spain, and is looking to tackle new markets, including the United States, which is largely driven by K-Cup coffee consumption. As such, Pelican Rouge will launch its own K-Cup alternative in September.

“We are in the process of developing three different K-Cup coffee blends, based on Pelican Rouge roasted coffee,” Lommerse says. “K-Cup is massive in the US and Canada. Brands like Tim Hortons and Starbucks have their own systems, so we’re really excited to launch our own K-Cup range.”

Pelican Rouge is also developing its own branded alternative to the Nespresso Professional pod, due for release in August 2020.

“Pelican Rouge has been blending and roasting coffee, creating ingredients since 1973 and supporting the capsule filling market for the last eight years. We supply our products to 71 countries and are knowledgeable about the ingredients we work with,” Lommerse says.

“The growth of the capsule market is set to continue, and if we can continue to adapt to the needs of our customers and produce ingredients that will deliver a delicious result, then it’s very rewarding.” GCR

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