The planned roll-out of the Lavazza Espression café concept appears to have ground to a halt after problems have emerged with the master franchisee.
Seven months after it was announced that Catalyst Retail had struck up a partnership with Lavazza UK to open at least 50 outlets across the country, planned openings have stalled as property consultant Cushman & Wakefield has pulled out from its involvement in finding sites and one of the major banks has withdrawn financial support from individual franchisees.
Problems began to materialise after Catalyst Retail signed up a number of franchisees for the brand, which prides itself on a range of coffee and chocolate drinks with input from its partnership with former three-Michelin-starred chef Ferran Adrià.
It has come to light that, after paying a deposit of £23,994 including VAT to Catalyst Retail, many of the franchisees became frustrated at the lack of communication and support from the company in helping them to drive their businesses forward.
As a result, some of the franchisees have asked for a refund of their deposits. While some have been repaid, a number of franchisees are still trying to recover their refundable deposits.
A spokesman for Lavazza, which has its head office in Turin, said that the company is aware of and is treating "very seriously" the problems which franchisees in the UK are experiencing with Catalyst Retail.
"The company is actively engaged in finding a quick and positive solution, ensuring the interests of Catalyst's existing and potential franchisees are taken into account," he said. "Lavazza will also take any measure it deems appropriate to preserve the image and reputation of the Lavazza brand."
The company added that it intends to ensure that the Lavazza Espression café concept in the UK builds on its brand presence of providing "a premium and authentic Italian coffee and food experience".
Bill Stickler, managing director of Catalyst Retail, declined to add to the official statement from Lavazza.
The Lavazza Espression café concept brand was launched in 2007 and now has outlets as far afield as Armenia, China, India, Lebanon, Sweden and the USA.