Thu 20 Jul 2023 • European Coffee Symposium
MEET THE CO-FOUNDERS OF EASTERN EUROPE’S LARGEST COFFEE CHAIN: INTERVIEW WITH 5 TO GO
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WHO ARE THE CO-FOUNDERS AND WHAT IS THEIR STORY?
Radu Savopol, co-founder of 5 to go, is a successful entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience in the HoReCa field. In 2015, Radu had the vision to develop a business in the to-go segment, and this idea turned into a strong brand – 5 to go – now recognised by millions of consumers with over 500 cafes throughout the country today. As an architect by profession and passionate about art, Radu has put his creative mark on the 5 to go brand, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere in the cafes through design and décor.
Lucian Bădilă is a successful young entrepreneur and fellow co-founder of 5 to go – the biggest coffee chain in Eastern Europe, and the biggest HoReCa franchise in Romania. He is in charge of the business’ expansion plans and is passionate about marketing and communication – some of the most successful 5 to go campaigns have his creative signature.
THE GROWTH OF 5-TO-GO
Radu Savopol, “In Romania, coffee culture is not established, but it is developing rapidly. We are a Romanian brand that has crossed the borders of the country, receiving international recognition. This year 5 to go was recognised as one of the top 10 coffee shop chains in Europe.”
Lucian Bădilă, “5 to go reached a strong position in the HoReCa segment in Romania in record time, with an outstanding 90% brand notoriety. Company growth has been exponential year after year: with the development of the franchise system, the number of cafes tripled, then doubled and the growth has continued to 500 cafes at present.”
KEY CHALLENGES FOR THE BRAND
Radu Savopol, “Our challenges will always be related to the development and improvement of our business structure: Which spaces to choose? How to optimize our portfolio? How to motivate the team? We believe that among the hardest decisions are those related to people, because it is essential to have the right team and keep them motivated.”
Lucian Bădilă, “5 to go went through challenging stages, starting with the challenge of building a coffee culture. In 2015 in Romania, the definition of coffee to go was machine coffee. Since then, there has also been the challenge of the pandemic, and of course the fragile economy.”
To summarise the last seven years, Lucian considers the launch of 5 to go’s franchise system and the partnership with Mozaik Investments as the most important steps in the development of the business. The next step is entry into retail.
What customer shifts have you noticed in the last 2 years? Any changes in customer behaviour that you feel are here to stay?
Radu Savopol, “I have noticed a positive change year on year in terms of people’s passion for good coffee – the kind that gets you off to a good start to the day and gets you out of the house at the weekend. Consumers have started to discover specialty coffee and its origin, seeking coffee according to affinities and immersing themselves in a community that share this passion for coffee. Variety is still a highly valued point, and so we seek to develop products that we recognise people have a greater affinity for – coffee as a passion is an important and developing trend.”
Lucian Bădilă, “Consumers are more preoccupied with looking for healthier and better options in their diet – organic, bio, eco, vegetal or vegan. This is a change I believe is here to stay, alongside the experience associated with consumption. Any choice a consumer makes has been associated with an experience – sensorial, emotional, or contextual.”
Which key trends are impacting your business in 2023?
Radu Savopol, “It is important as an entrepreneur to analyse the market with international context, to be permanently connected, and to anticipate concepts, preferences, and trends that will develop in a few years. An entrepreneur with a vision can develop his business into a benchmark, and turn challenges into opportunities.”
As for trends, let’s talk about the much younger coffee audience – a challenge for us because they prefer unique combinations which leads us to use new recipes, creams, and cold drinks to satisfy their preferences.
Also, new preparation methods are an emerging trend, especially in terms of the appetite for cold products, cold brew and nitro. Another change and growing trend since 2022 is the use of alternative milk products in the preparation of coffee. Using plant-based ingredients such as oats, pea milk, soy milk or almond milk gives extra creaminess and flavour to the coffee.
Lucian Bădilă, “The healthier choices consumers make represent a trend that has a positive impact on our business. We have always been preoccupied with our consumer’s habits and desires, and this is reflected by offering them various choices, from varieties of vegetal milk for coffee-based products to a sugar-free and vegan options available in our coffee shops.”
Which hero product have you launched recently? Tell us more!
Radu Savopol, “We recently launched Italian Sparkling Espresso, a coffee that manages to combine the authentic taste of the Italian espresso with the freshness of a carbonated drink. And because it’s summer, we launched a new signature product, the 5 to go frappe in a 1litre Tetra Pack.”
Lucian Bădilă, “We have just launched a new innovative product for retail: the 1L box of frappe. This is the first litre UHT product from the 5 to go portfolio, and also the first in Romania in this category. We are talking about a premium product with excellent flavour and low sugar, that suits current consumer trends. It’s a good choice for regular consumption. This frappe also offers customers the opportunity to experience the taste of 5 to go products outside our cafes. It is perfect for home consumption, as well as the customer segment in HoReCa.”
What are you currently looking for in terms of new products and innovation?
Radu Savopol, “On the business side, we aim to reach a threshold of 1,000 locations in Romania in the next 5 years and continue our expansion internationally. Regarding the variety of products, we keep the same line of creativity, innovation, and diversity. We do not want to brag in any way, but to constantly surprise our customers in a pleasant way, constantly launching new recipes and mixes and I must say the taste of our coffee cannot be found anywhere else because it is a unique blend, with an intense, full-bodied, creamy aroma, created especially for 5 to go. Retail presence with a varied range is also a strategic direction for us that we develop constantly.”
Lucian Bădilă, “We are in a continuous process of innovation and improvement, based on analysing new trends and trying to match the feedback we are constantly receiving from our consumers. Our aim is to create meaningful experiences for every person who chooses to visit our cafes, offering them not only a good coffee, but also authentic stories and surprising products, faster service and special recipes to meet their needs and bring a smile to their face.”
In which product categories have you witnessed a substantial spike in demand?
Radu Savopol, “I believe that espresso and its derivatives will always be a source of creativity. It’s a basic product that takes on new values year after year, giving us the freedom to develop new coffee-based drinks. Similarly, specialty coffee has earned its place at the top of consumer preferences, and is increasingly appreciated.”
Lucian Bădilă, “There is definitely a spike in demand for our milk-based portfolio, so we strive to constantly improve the qualities of these products. We use patented technology to obtain the perfect texture and flavour. There is also high demand for retail products, therefore a permanent development of this product range and the expansion of retail operations are important objectives for 5 to go and part of the company’s development strategy. The range of our at-home products has recently been completed by the 1L frappe, alongside a new coffee-based ready to drink product – Irish Cappuccino in a 250 ml bottle, and the Italian Sparkling Espresso, specifically aimed at retailers. Mini syrups for coffee (50ml) have also been launched. These are available in six flavours and are among the most appreciated by our consumers.”
How important is sustainability for your business and how important is Health and Wellness within your client base?
Radu Savopol, “The circular economy and sustainability are areas of constant concern to us, as we operate in a market with many synergies in terms of protecting the planet and healthy coffee harvests. We use products from recycled materials, and in turn, we recycle waste. We are equally concerned with our customer’s affinity towards vegan products and products with reduced or sugar-free content.”
Lucian Bădilă, “I strongly believe that in the present day, all businesses must consider sustainability as a first priority. We recycle waste, we use products from recycled materials and also offer our customers planet-friendly alternatives, like vegan products or edible and biodegradable straws for cold drinks instead of plastic straws. We are getting closer, step by step, to the proposed objective of becoming a 100% sustainable business by 2025.”
What’s your personal mantra?
Radu Savopol, “Smile, there’s coffee! It may sound cliché because it’s the slogan of our cafes, but I really do believe that a good coffee makes your day better, and for me, as for many people, the day can’t start without coffee and can’t continue without genuine smiles.”
Lucian Bădilă, “Optimism and confidence are defining features for me. I am also humorous, so my mantra would be the one you’ll find written on our coffee cups: Bigger is always better. A bigger coffee, a higher turnover, and a bigger number of coffee shops – we aim to reach a threshold of 1,000 locations in Romania in the next 5 years.”
What’s your favourite book of all time?
Radu Savopol, “Dark Cockpit by Emil Dobrovolski and Octavian Pantiș, a book about how to communicate and always be in control like an aircraft commander.”
Lucian Bădilă, “Mindset by Carol Dweck, because it helped me better understand how much mindset matters and how to combine the human side with the business side, in order to achieve success.”
Where do you find inspiration?
Radu Savopol, “Traveling to interesting, aspirational, and inspirational places is my source of creativity and personal development, as well as coffee industry and retail conferences, which I constantly attend as a speaker or guest. I always discover people full of revolutionary ideas, creativity, and positive energy that motivate and inspire me.”
Lucian Bădilă, “As an entrepreneur, I find myself meeting a lot of people, I visit coffee shops, I talk to consumers, and I find inspiration in every one of them. Attention to detail is all you need to learn a lot from people. Based on their feedback, and also analysing external trends, we keep developing new strategies that help us become more relevant on the market. I have always said that the secret to success is listening to people.”
Your favourite place for coffee?
Radu Savopol, “We have crossed the threshold of 500 cafes, but my favourite place remains the very first open coffee shop, located in the centre of Bucharest. It is a very small coffee shop, but it is the place where our story began, which motivated us and gave us the courage to dream more. It remains one of our most successful locations, and whenever I get the chance, I enjoy a coffee there.”
Lucian Bădilă, “I like drinking coffee at home, and also in any of our 5 to go cafes which also feel like home. Still, I’m a traveller and a nature lover, so I would say that any coffee tastes better when you are surrounded by a spectacular view, like the sea or a mountain.”
What would your last meal be?
Radu Savopol, “Romania is a country with culinary history, full of oriental, Slavic gastronomic influences, so we are a nation that eats a lot and well. I think that if I had to choose, I would opt for a unique sensory experience and enjoy something unique from the cuisines of the world.”
Lucian Bădilă, “I really enjoy food, especially traditional Romanian recipes, so it would be a very hard choice. I guess it would have to be something coffee-flavored – I love nothing more than coffee, after all.”