Big Interview: Compass Group UK & Ireland

Big Interview: Compass Group UK & Ireland

Coffee is big business for food service company Compass Group UK & Ireland. This year it has: achieved SCA Premier Training Campus Status; head of hot beverage Sonia Carvalho has joined the elite ranks of the country’s ASTs; and it has awarded the title of Master Barista to five of its top coffee professionals. Coffee Business World editor Kate Oppenheim meets the team behind the Barista Academy to find out more.

Creating career paths to develop, nurture and retain baristas is at the heart of Compass Group UK & Ireland’s development of its Barista Academy, as it becomes the first contract catering business to win the highly prized Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) Premier Training Campus status.

Compass is one of just three companies in the UK with the SCA accreditation – Matthew Algie and Square Mile Coffee Roasters being the other two – with its head of hot beverage Sonia Carvalho recently achieving her AST (Authorised SCA Trainers) qualification and in doing so, joining the ranks of the elite 80 ASTs in the UK.

The journey to achieving these coveted credentials began two years ago, when Compass joined the SCA in a bid to have access to accredited training providers and “elevate coffee within its business”. Coffee, in recent years, has become big business for Compass, with sales accounting for one third of the business’s annual profits – and its goal is to be recognised for having “the best coffee”.

Compass has already made a “significant investment” in developing its Barista Academy along with its own range of branded coffee, Peak Street and Crackle & Hum (CBW March 21). Now, its sights are firmly fixed on creating career paths for what will become a bevy of highly-skilled, motivated baristas, which it trusts will want to stay within its business, providing it with coffee professionals who will inspire, motivate, educate and drive up coffee quality across its business.

As “the leading contract caterer in the UK”, Compass has clients across a range of industries and sectors - hospitals, museums, schools, retailers and restaurants - and has 60,000 people working in “every corner of the country”.

Compass described its plans for the baristas as following the well-trodden career paths that exist for chefs.

Like chefs, there’s a huge shortage of good baristas in the UK. “We want to show [baristas] that joining us isn’t about just making coffee for two years and then moving on – ‘we want to keep you’, in the same way we do with our chefs,” said Carvalho (pictured right). “It has always been difficult to retain good people - if you don’t engage with them and give something back.”

She adds, with a smile: “We are now in a better position to be more appealing to people who are super nerdy coffee geeks, just like me! We want people in our business who are passionate.”

With a mission to become the industry leader in terms of in-house training and creating career paths, Compass plans to train 200 baristas within its new Barista Academy in Chertsey over the next year. And both Carvalho and Stephen Lovegrove (pictured above), head of format (café and foodvenience) at Compass, are already talking about a time in the not-so-distant future when they will have outgrown the current space and will be looking to develop a larger, bespoke training school on a new site. The current arrangements sees them sharing with the chef teams.

Lovegrove continued: “When you find the right people, it then becomes about developing a career path for them – from baristas to group baristas and beyond [diplomas and trainers] – providing the right environment for people to grow and develop. For that, you’ve got to provide not only the right environment but the packages and clear progression plan.”

The Barista Academy has also got the backing of 10 strong partners, which have signed up for a two-year sponsorship deal. Each sponsor gets involved with the baristas’ development too, via their area of expertise. For instance, baristas will spend a day on a dairy learning about the milk process. The 10 sponsors are: UCC Coffee, the core coffee supplier to Compass, Simonelli, Victoria Arduino, Alpro, Yew Tree Dairy, West Country Milk, Brita, Hydracs, Teapigs, Speciality Coffee Association and CCS (Continental Chef Supplies).

Creating the barista competition – 30 applied to take part in the first year - was a further way for Compass to strengthen its culture of coffee.

The five winning Master Baristas (CBW, June 6) were chosen at the end of three days of rigorous trials, with the final heat judged by Lauro Fioretti, World Barista Championship judge and product manager at Simonelli Group, Owen Thom, training and quality coordinator at Specialty Coffee Association, Gayan Munaweera, head of coffee quality at UCC Coffee, and Paul Whitehead, regional sales manager at BUNN UK.

“They’ve all seen the benefit of [what we’re doing] and seen that the culture around coffee is changing within the business, and therefore we believe more will apply in future years,” said Carvalho, adding none of those applying had taken part in barista competitions before, and it was incredible, she said, to see the passion they put into their coffee creations. “One of the baristas even roasted their own coffee for the judges. The process has allowed us to find the hidden gems in the business.”

Lovegrove added: “Creating a community of baristas within our business is an important part of it… to encourage and nurture our baristas to create and share their work with each other.”

It’s a triangular approach, he explained. One side of the triangle was about finding the right partnerships, the other was utilising the correct equipment and working with the right products, and underneath it all was training.

Marketing director Louise Pilkington recently asked the question, “how do we evaluate what we are doing in coffee?”. The answer, is to create something that people want to be part of – something that is industry leading.

“Our customers see what’s happening on the high streets with the brands, independents and non-specialists and the bar is continually being raised. We are the leaders in this space and clients look to us for new innovation too – to give them something different to what’s on the high street,” said Lovegrove.

And building a team of motivated, inspired and passionate professional coffee people with ideas and expertise is the way Compass believes it will keep in the lead and driving its coffee business forward.

Pictured: Master Barista Sziszi Walter


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