your everyday coffee
By Bernadine Rodrigo
Having begun in the very early 2000s, Barista has been a pioneer in the coffee culture in Sri Lanka. Having an almost two-decade-long presence in the industry, their experience in the trade is incomparable.
Back when they began, the coffee concept was new to Sri Lanka, a country which was primarily a tea-drinking one. However, within 17 years, many new coffee establishments came up, leading to the industry becoming extremely competitive – none of which would have been possible if Barista had not taken the imitative.
“In my opinion, we have done a lot for the Sri Lankan coffee market in terms of expansion, generating industry-related knowledge, and infrastructure developments,” said General Manager Dilupa Pathrirana.
Although the beverage is famous all around the world and easily available to many people, in Sri Lanka, it is something of an exclusive drink due to its rather exceptionally high price. Compared with other beverages, coffee simply costs more. A cup of cappuccino costs about Rs. 550 on average, making it a luxury to have a cappuccino every day. Also, one needs to take the effort to get out of the house and make the journey to a coffee shop to get a quality cup of coffee as it is not available through all retail channels – another obstacle in the path of expansion.
Hence, the industry’s growth potential has been restricted by “coffee” becoming a premium beverage, and of which the cons overweighs the pros in making it a daily necessity.
To battle this, Pathirana came up with a brand new innovation so that the barrier between the daily consumer and the cup of coffee would be broken down and customers would have access to coffee more frequently and conveniently.
“In Sri Lanka, the coffee shop experience is different; it is mostly related to one’s social needs and is used to fulfil needs other than what coffee as a beverage is really used for.
“As a result, there is a big burden on players in the market to invest in a lot of aspects such as ambiance, location, packaging, and advertising in addition to the actual coffee served at the outlet. This, in turn, puts more upward pressure on the price of coffee. Therefore, coffee has been maintaining itself as a ‘premium’ experience.
“At present, unless you’re a great coffee lover, coffee is an occasional drink you consumer at social gatherings or when you have to impress someone at a meeting. Keeping the category as ‘premium’ would probably help a standalone café, but certainly not café chains like Barista with the intention of islandwide expansion,” said Pathirana about the local coffee scene.
He wished to fully revolutionise the experience of coffee in Sri Lanka starting from the coffee culture of the island which is attached to the stationary coffee shop.
He has realised that if they need to grow, they will have to go beyond the existing norms of coffee in Sri Lanka in order to achieve that by making it an everyday beverage, just like the daily cup of tea. He understands that although they want more people to get into the habit of drinking coffee, it has become increasingly difficult with the entry price point itself being higher. He wished to break free from all these barricades preventing common people’s access to his coffee.
And so “Piccolo”, the user-friendly cup of coffee, was born, not in the usual Barista white cup but in a brown cup. At Rs. 199 – less than 50% of the price of the normal drink – the Piccolo is almost irresistible to consumers in Sri Lanka. To add to the joy of the low cost it requires one to bear, it is also delivered to your doorstep at home, work, or school through Uber Eats.
In fact, Pathirana gathered this insight from Uber Eats’ concept. When Barista commenced their partnership with Uber, the latter wanted Barista to run a promotion, something attractive, and Barista wanted to see for themselves the price sensitivity of the market.
So, at the beginning of their venture, they promoted a cup of coffee for Rs. 99, the cost that arose was borne by both Barista and Uber, since no profit was made selling at that price. It sold out like hot cakes.
Everyone wanted it and they were unable to match the demand. One month’s sales of cappuccino was sold in three days. They then saw that the issue was not with the level of awareness or product preference, but rather the price.
As such, Barista realised that if they could offer coffee at lower prices, consumption would skyrocket. The “Piccolo”, meaning “small” in Italian, was a result of addressing the need to deviate it from a luxury beverage to an affordable beverage and generalise coffee as a drink enjoyed by absolutely anybody.
Photos Krishan Kariyawasam