In a move which has taken the espresso machine sector completely by surprise, First Choice Coffee has taken on exclusive UK distributorship of Nuova Simonelli machines, including the one which will be used in this year's World Barista Championship finals.
Coffeetech, the distributors up to now, will work with First Choice, probably contributing its vast experience in servicing the machines.
Elaine Higginson, managing director of First Choice, has said that the move reinforces her company's status as the leading supplier of espresso machines to the hospitality industry.
First Choice, which already supplies many of the giant catering names, is now in the extremely powerful position of being able to supply espresso machines in all the formats and levels which the hospitality industry requires, from acknowledged top manufacturers.
First Choice now becomes an even more significant supplier to the hospitality trade. The company already supplies many of the giant catering names, and already works with such machines as the Mastrena, the one which Starbucks uses across its entire estate. This and the Black and White brand come from respected Swiss manufacturers, and the arrival of top-end Italian machines from Nuova Simonelli makes for a very serious range.
First Choice had previously distributed the Victoria Arduino, an extremely distinctive traditional machine by Nuova Simonelli. This is a range which features very art-deco designs, and is the brand featured in the famous European railway coffee poster.
"Our proposition before was in traditional espresso machines at this very high end, and in bean-to-cup machines at medium-to-high," explains Elaine Higginson. "We had a gap in our traditional range, and we also had a gap in very low-volume bean-to-cup.
"Nuova Simonelli had seen what we had done with the Victoria Arduino, saw we had a gap in our traditional range, and they knew we also had a gap in very low-volume bean-to-cup - Nuova Simonelli have one which suits for offices and small kitchens, as a kind of entry level to fresh-milk bean-to-cup.
"The Victoria Arduino is a top-end, hand-crafted and aesthetically beautiful bit of kit! The Aurelia is about high technology achieved after a lot of extremely expensive research - its stability is one of the reasons it was chosen as the WBC machine.
"But everything starts from the market, and now we have everything the market wants, from a baby one-group with grinder for kitchens to the very high-end. They all make great coffee, but for us it's the tiered offer which we need to be seen as a true leader."
First Choice has a wonderful promotional opportunity from the start, with the Aurelia being the machine picked for the World Barista Championship finals in London, in June. Espresso manufacturers can apply for consideration for this honour, but then have to put their machines through what is considered probably the ultimate technical testing of an espresso machine.
It has been agreed by many people that sponsors of the WBC do not make enough of their promotional opportunity. Elaine Higginson says that First Choice will do so, strongly.
"We will be putting a plan around the event. We will involve baristas, judges, the trade, the pressâ¦ we are really going to use this to promote the cause of good coffee in the UK!"
By Ian Boughton