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Dr. B.J. Ashwini Kumar,Coffee Board Research Chair

Leo coffee – More than a century of R&G Coffee innovations

Dr. B.J. Ashwini Kumar, Coffee Board Research Chair

Leo coffee, with a strong presence in R&G coffee markets across India and abroad, has constantly innovated to emerge as a major coffee business in India. The business has shown immense resilience and adopted new business formats to reach out to distinct consumer segments. Leo Coffee has effectively built upon its traditional roots to widen its product portfolio and consolidate its business models.

Leo Coffee's beginnings can be traced to the year 1910, when Sri. P.R Karupiah Nadar, an enterprising 16 year old youth, started trading coffee with European Jesuit Missionaries who, at that time, owned most of the coffee plantations in the Pulney hills. They found him a reliable and honest man to sell their coffee and soon, Mr. Nadar was signing agreements to buy coffees from all major estate companies in the region. One such agreement (dated 1915) with the Nilgiris Coffee Traders Company (which was owned by the British back then) is still preserved by his family. Upon being successful in coffee trading, Mr. Nadar set up a curing works and also started buying out estates from the British and Fresh missionaries. He settled and lived in Pattiveeranpatti, a small yet wealthy village on the foothills of the Pulney hills (Tamilnadu).

Leo coffee

After a few decades of successful coffee trading, the, Sri. PRK Baskaran and his brothers (sons of Sri. Karupiah Nadar), established a coffee R&G unit, Joseph's Coffee, in the 1950s in Tiruchirapalli (Tamilnadu). This brand continues to be a strong regional brand of fine coffee. Upon about two decades of successful operations of the business and further consolidation of the coffee plantations, Sri. Baskaran sensed an opportunity to establish a coffee retailing business in Chennai (Madras, as it was known then). In 1970, he consulted his mentor, Rev. Father Leonard, a French Jesuit priest who was the Archbishop of Madurai. On receiving his blessings, Sri. Baskaran sought to name the R&G coffee as Leonard Coffee. However, as advised by Father Leonard, the brand name of LEO coffee was decided. With immense ambitions and a focused approach, Sri. Baskaran travelled to Madras and bought a large house in Mylapore and converted it into a small roasting unit with office space. He also led a team of passionate employees from Pattiveeranpatti with him to realize his vision.

In June 1971, Sri PRK Baskaran, founded "Leo Coffee", with its first retail branch in Mylapore and located close to the roasting unit. He focused on quality and made sure that coffee consumers in Madras got exquisite, fine-tasting coffee. Word soon spread of this shop in Mylapore and people from all over the city started flocking to it. This prompted him to open more branches and, by the mid-1980s, 15 Leo outlets were operating in the city. With the retail business being managed by a few able managers, Sri. Baskaran could focus on consolidating and expanding the coffee plantations. By the mid-1980s, the plantations as well as the Leo brand were flourishing.

Leo coffee

Leo coffee- 80's, 90's and upto 2005 - The era of modernization

By the mid 80's, Sri. PRK Baskaran's sons, Sri. B. Srinivasan Deviah and Sri. B. Ernest, entered the coffee with Sri. Srinivasan managing the retailing business and Sri. Ernest managing the plantations. The consolidation phase began with Mr. Srinivasan shifting to Chennai in 1987 and expanding the Leo retail chain to 40 outlets in a short period of time. Leo catapulted itself as one of the most popular household brands in Chennai. A technologically-advanced Probat coffee roaster and grinders from Mahlkonig, Germany were imported and a modern manufacturing facility was established in Perungudi in 1991. The rapid leapfrogging of product quality and output was accompanied by marketing initiatives which included an iconic advertisement campaign that featured leading actor Arvind Swamy and music by a young AR Rahman. This ad was aired through the early 90's and helped the brand register itself as a quintessential daily ritual in Tamilnadu.

Leo coffee

Present and future

Leo Coffee continues to be a traditional coffee company with its values being the same as it was a century ago. However, in recent years, the business has adopted various modern technological innovations and market-based practices for marketing, product development and branding. With more than 30 SKUs and a strong presence in the organized retailing sector, Leo's brands have made deep inroads into the R&G coffee market.

Leo is currently being sold in 7 states of the country and, it is aspired to transform Leo into a pan-India brand in the next few years. The business has innovated significantly in terms of packaging and has also adopted the shop-in-shop format to enhance consumer reach. Leo has also launched its coffee vending brand "Mylapore Mocha" recently, which serves authentic coffee and a range of other beverages at very reasonable prices. These shops and kiosks have been established in all Leo coffee stores and also third party locations like software parks, hospitals and malls. It is also planned to launch an own estate single origin coffee soon in the market branded as "Leo Little flower estate coffee" named after an estate owned by the family.

Mr Srinivasan Deviah's son Venu Srinivasan heads the business' day-to-day activities now and has taken to innovations like the shop-in-shop model and the vending division of the company. He has grand plans to establish atleast 100 outlets of Mylapore Mocha in south India in the next 2 years. His vision is also to take the brand national in the next 3 to 5 years and plans are already in place to roll out some new products under the brands - Leo coffee and Mylapore Mocha. Leo coffee is sold though all major e-commerce sites and, the online store of Leo Coffee has also been recently launched. Leo has also been effectively utilizing social media platforms to reach out to the youth and techno-savvy segments of coffee consumers.

The business's vision is to evolve into a pan-India brand and eventually explore international markets. With the coffee market growing rapidly in India, Leo has seen sustained growth and, the product and channel innovations are expected to lead the future growth of the business. The current owners of Leo coffee are unwavering in their commitment to the roots and values of the founders and are resolute in cherishing and upholding those values.

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Nov 132015

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