Marco Lavazza has one of those surnames that gets him stopped wherever he goes. As the heir and Vice Chairman to the Lavazza coffee empire, Marco today has the company’s reputation resting firmly on his shoulders.
As he steers the 120 year-old family business towards a new generation of discerning coffee drinkers, D’Marge sat down with him to chat the perfect cup, sending Lavazza into outer space and what it means to keep it in the family.
D’Marge: What sets Italian coffee apart from American coffee?
Marco Lavazza: Tradition and habits. We have the habit to grab it on the go, stay with friends at the bar and then we go away. For Americans, coffee is a beverage. For us it’s about a culture. A lot happens around coffee.
DM: You’ve been around coffee for a long time. What’s the biggest crime against the bean?
ML: Biggest crime? Wow. Not use coffee? We have to understand the best things for the consumer. If they want milk like in most of the Anglo countries, we have to understand how to boost our coffee even with milk.
90 percent milk and 10 percent coffee – that would be a crime. But if people like it, we are open. We have to understand the habits and which is the best coffee for those habits.
DM: At what age did you start drinking coffee?
ML: There’s not a particular age you start. My son is eight and he already started. When we have lunch together, at the end of the meal he asks if he can have a cup. I’m going to give him a decaf as at eight, he has too much energy already. It’s part of your life.
DM: Lavazza was recently partnered with London Collections Men and also sent a coffee machine into space for astronauts at the International Space Station. Is there anywhere Lavazza hasn’t been?
ML: We are very flexible. It’s nice because I talked to my father when I started working. I told him we have to go to Australia. He said Australia is very far. I said, “no, dad. It’s just twenty hours by plane.”
And then you start discovering that the next step it’s the stars. It’s not a normal ticket you can just buy and go there. There were many other problems up there but it’s something in our DNA.
People who think that coffee isn’t something new, we can find something new everyday. To link Lavazza with R&D, it’s the perfect match. We always invested in research to find something new.
“We have over 2,500 people with families working for us. So you have to be careful what you’re doing. It’s not just fun.”
DM: Tell us about the experience.
ML: The possibility to send our machine into space? It’s the dream that every child has; to be an astronaut. It started as a fancy thing. Then when you have to pack this thing and write the address to be checked by NASA, it gives you an absolute sense of pride that’s enormous.
And then when we there in front of screen to see our astronaut drinking our coffee, that’s a milestone of life. It doesn’t happen everyday. The chef of the base tried it out, he said it was wonderful.
NASA are trying to take normal aspects of life into space for psychological inference. So bringing coffee there in a sense is like having a post.
DM: What determines Lavazza’s brand collaborations?
ML: Let’s call it a family affair. We have two families and we’ve worked together for over 120 years. We started working with chefs when they were just chefs. They were geniuses, but they were not that exposed.
We try to anticipate things and find whatever suits with our values and objectives. When we stared at Wimbledon, we stared not because it was tennis, but because it was an event that everyone in the world knew something about.
Wherever Lavazza can show our capability in every field, we’re very glad and happy to collaborate.
DM: Is there a sense of pride and responsibility to uphold the famous name?
ML: Of course. When you go outside of Italy and arrive at customs they ask why are you are here.
“What do you do?”
They stop there and say, “are you linked to the Lavazza family?”
Normally people think of companies as multinationals. It’s not so obvious that there’s a family behind it, but for us there’s a family bond. It’s always been very important to us. There wouldn’t be Lavazza without family. We’re not selling a product, we’re selling the name of a family. So we care about every aspect of what we do.
DM: Lavazza is worth over $1 billion Euro today and many would assume it’s quite cruisey for you now. Are there any stresses of the job people don’t see?
ML: There are many. Last year, I stayed in Australia for 20 hours. It took me 40 hours to arrive here for just 20 hours stay. People say, “you travel so much and see many things!”
But I see many, many meeting rooms. Which is nice, but I see something from the taxi to those meeting rooms. It can be a stressful life because it has different timezones.
The responsibility of everyday and every decision you take can affect a lot of people too. We have over 2,500 people with families working for us. So you have to be careful what you’re doing. It’s not just fun.
DM: What is the secret to the perfect cup of coffee?
ML: Passion and tradition. We put passion in what we do and that’s what we’ve been doing for 120 years. Just coffee.
DM: What would your last cup of coffee be like?
ML: Drinking on the moon. Maybe Richard Branson can help us.