Iconic New Zealand coffee brand Coffee Supreme was founded in 1993 and is now set to celebrate its 30th birthday. We sit down with CEO Andrew Low to discuss its longevity, challenges and the lessons learnt during the journey.
On August 16, 1993, Coffee Supreme Founders Chris Dillon and Maggie Wells started their business with a goal to run the best café in the country.
The Coffee Supreme journey started in hospitality, with the iconic Reds Café in Wellington coming at a time where Kiwis were discovering the world of coffee.
“Dillon and Wells became stalwarts of hospitality, introducing and teaching a lot of people about coffee, particularly espresso training,” describes Low.
All was going well until Dillon received a call from their coffee supplier, Tony Gibbs at Belaroma Coffee, who announced they were in liquidation.
This was a pivotal moment for the brand as Dillon “without much and against all advice” employed the previous owner, designed a new logo and began their very own coffee company.
“The first roastery was at Woodward Street, a tiny location that drivers hated delivering to and where the basement flooded regularly. Roasting on the original Probat GN12 and fuelled by a passion for better coffee, it grew organically over the years, learning a lot along the way, to where we are today,” Low says.
Now, 30 years have passed by and Coffee Supreme has grown from hospitality, into retail and now across the world.
As an iconic New Zealand brand, Low says that their success comes down to their hospitality values that they still instil from their roots, and the innovation in order to keep up with changing consumer trends.
“What hasn’t changed over time is our love for coffee, our love for learning about it, and our love for sharing both of these things. Dillon often said, ‘this game can’t be clocked’ and as a result, we believe in always improving, and that we will never ‘arrive’,” says Low.
“That speaks to our purpose ‘better coffee for all’. It’s about us always striving for better, better support for our customers, better quality, better experiences for all. It’s the team’s passion and vision that makes it feel like we’re still just getting started.”
Since 1993, Coffee Supreme have achieved a lot, including its successful expansion into the Australian market in the early 2000s, where it is now serving coffee across Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. It is now Japan as well, serving in one of the most popular districts in Tokyo, Shibuya.
But the past 30 years haven’t been a smooth sailing experience of success.
At the mention of the pandemic, Low says it was a “doozy”, taking a look at how Covid-19 affected their business.
“The heartland of our business are our café customers and so we rode the hospitality impact of lockdowns right by their side,” he says.
As a response, Coffee Supreme had to shift their business to serve their consumers through e-commerce, experiencing record home deliveries of fresh coffee.
Coffee is also not immune to consumer trends and as a brand, Coffee Supreme had to be innovative to stay at the forefront of customers’ minds.
“We’ve evolved as life has evolved, staying close to the cultural fabric of hospitality life and reflecting that in our brand and products,” adds Low.
“Ultimately, we strive to strike the balance between educating on what’s new or better and delivering on the consistency that our customers love today. It’s a constant tug of war but we believe that over the past 30 years we have got that balance pretty spot on.”
Taking a look back at their journey, Coffee Supreme is extremely happy with their 30-year journey despite all the highs and lows, with Low adding “it’s one of the greatest jobs on the Earth”.
Low also adds that looking back at their journey of 30 years, Coffee Supreme hopes to inspire entrepreneurs to follow in their footsteps and “continue burning the torch”.
“It’s always harder, more expensive and a longer journey than you think it will be, so the best advice our founders could give a new entrepreneur is to only start out if it’s a mission you are truly passionate about, not because it seems cool, or you think you will be famous,” he says.
Though the brand is celebrating its 30th birthday, Coffee Supreme still has a long journey ahead, with the business hoping to continue its support for the New Zealand community whilst also looking to expand further in more countries.
Along with its expansion plans, Coffee Supreme is also exploring new products, working towards being the “greatest little coffee company in the world”.
“The answer lies in our purpose as better coffee for all is a constant. It’s a matter of doing things better than the time before and ensuring it’s a better experience for all involved.”