THE WINNER: PHILLIP DI BELLA

Written on the 14 January 2011

THE WINNER: PHILLIP DI BELLA

Phillip Di Bella has not only built one of the the largest coffee product manufacturing companies in Australia, but he’s about to take on the lucrative instant coffee market with an espresso concentrate. He has knocked back several ‘golden handshakes’ for Espresso Enterprises, but he tells Brisbane Business News that one should not allow figures to consume their life.

DI Bella tells the story of two politicians meeting for coffee.

Lord Mayor Campbell Newman is on a visit to Melbourne to meet his counterpart John So, who requests a meeting in his favourite cafe because, ‘Brisbanites know nothing about coffee’. As fate would have it, So is forced to swallow his words, along with a Di Bella coffee roasted in Brisbane.

That cup of coffee was one of around 1.6 million the company served nationwide that week, in one of 1200 cafes that Di Bella supplies to. It’s the type of scope that has led to multinational takeover offers, but the 35-year-old founder isn’t budging.

“People get carried away with money as a figure and figures consume your life, but I won’t let figures consume my life in general,” he says.

“I’ve been offered the golden paycheck several times and said no, from beverage companies, private investors, private equity investors, to multinational food companies – we’ve been offered the golden handshake many times, offering 12 times EBIT.

“When I started it was to create a legacy and legacies aren’t built in eight years, so I haven’t finished what I started. I can drive whatever car I want now, I can eat in any restaurant I want, I can travel to any country I want, so I will not shift for money.”

Di Bella might not like figures but he certainly knows them, highlighting an opportunity with instant coffee buyers that has led him to create IP for a fresh espresso-based concentrate, in conjunction with an undisclosed US company.

“Ninety per cent of households have a coffee product and 65 per cent of that coffee product is instant – we really want to nail that,” he says.

“I’ve developed a concentrate that instead of spooning in powder, you put one part coffee, but it’s made from espresso natural. I’m not going to take away instant coffee drinkers. I’m going to give them a natural, healthy alternative.

“I’ve got a lot of hotels hooked up, major airlines, the two biggest airlines in Australia are talking to me about this, convention centres are talking to me already, motor homes, campervans – there’s not going to be a shortage of people who want this product.”

Di Bella will launch the product at the Taste 2011 exhibition in Mumbai on January 27, as an expansion on the company’s export operations, which include an agent in Shanghai. He expects the espresso concentrate to contribute 60 per cent of revenue in 10 years.

On the international stage, Di Bella prides himself on having a buyer that sources coffee beans directly from farms, making sure they engage in ethical practices that provide education and health services to employees’ families.

“You have to remember that coffee is currency in these countries – before we talk price, you must have health benefits, the education of the kids and the workers that work on their farm,” he says.

“What we’re doing is mitigating risk and mitigating threats by saying you need to look after the people on your farm. What does that do? It gets them the best employees. What does that do for me? It gets me the best coffee.”

Di Bella follows the philosophy of ‘crop to cup’ and is constantly thinking of new ways to reach customers, such as mydibellacoffee.com which was launched this year and is now the largest online coffee buying website in the country.

He directly employs 120 staff, indirectly 26,000, and also has three cafes around Australia that give all of their earnings to charity.

“I’m a people business, I’m not in the coffee business. When ‘coffee’ walks in the door to buy coffee, that’s when I’m in the coffee business,” he says.

For a full profile list on Brisbane’s 2010 Young Entrepreneurs, including interviews with all of the finalists, get a copy of the special annual edition of Brisbane Business News – out now in more than 500 greater Brisbane newsagents.


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