Arctic coffee invented in Norilsk

Arctic coffee invented in Norilsk

June 28, 2024

An entrepreneur is developing coffee culture, offering Norilsk residents high-quality blends under his own brand.

#ARCTIC. #SIBERIA. THIS IS TAIMYR. More than ten years ago, when Sergey Serbin opened his online store selling coffee and began promoting this noble drink in Norilsk, he could not imagine that his product would become a recognizable brand. The Nornickel company provided an interest-free loan to the entrepreneur for the implementation of his business project.

– Sergey, how did you get into business? And why did you choose this particular niche?

– After graduating from school in Norilsk, I entered a university in Belgorod, but was unsuccessful. Went to the army. After demobilization, I worked wherever I could: as a loader, as a freight forwarder, and sold fruits and vegetables in a tent. It was a difficult period. It was impossible to get a job at the combine. I went into private security organization, where I worked for several years. But I felt that it was not mine. Then I sold coffee machines and coffee in a household appliance store for 12 years.

– The idea of ​​your own business appeared right at that time, didn’t it?

– I read a lot at that time, I wanted development, I proposed ideas to my employer. At that time, he was a monopolist in this area. The business was mega-marginal. But my ideas did not find a response. It was clear that this could not continue for long.

I thought about starting my own business, but in the mid-2000s it was difficult to get a loan for start-up capital. Therefore, I was ready to open an individual entrepreneur only in 2010. I started by creating an online store кофедруг.рф. This did not require the cost of premises, I only needed a warehouse that I already had. My colleague Anastasia and I organized a delivery service. The advantage was that I still had a certain client base from my previous work place – some of the buyers followed me.

At first it was very difficult – at that time there was no high-speed Internet in Norilsk. Although we made our first website very simple, so that it loaded easily and a person could quickly place an order. At first, we focused on the coffee machines maintenance and invited customers to the site. It was a deliberate strategy.

Considering that there was no money for advertising, I had to show up at the right places. But it was interesting. And now it’s also interesting! Because coffee opens many doors. You may end up somewhere you never dreamed of visiting.

For example, not long ago we made coffee at the International Tourism Exhibition in Moscow. A bit later, we presented our products to the international business elite at the economic forum in St. Petersburg.

– Did you bring any rare, unusual varieties to the North? For example, Luwak coffee, the grains of which are said to acquire some incredible taste after passing through the digestive tract of palm martens?

– I’m not a coffee snob, but I don’t like very exotic things either. You can bring such a product “from animals”, but only a couple of people will come to try this drink. You can’t build a business on this. They will say: tasteless and expensive. It’s just marketing and nothing more.

Our local, northern exoticism is a different matter. For example, in our coffee space Кофе-друг (eng.: Coffee Friend) we prepare Arctic coffee – with venison. And it works! There was a queue to see us at SPIEF 2022! In general, we experiment a lot with coffee, do various fermentations, and dry it with berries to capture those very notes. But I believe that coffee is a self-sufficient product.

– What kind of coffee do you like?

– I almost always drink black coffee. I love espresso, Americano – I brew it in a French press. How many times do I drink? Six times a day. And before – even more. I feel that sometimes an addiction arises – I want to feel the taste and aroma of coffee. In this case I brew a decaffeinated drink so I don’t have to worry about the consequences.

– Are there gourmets in Norilsk who ask for certain varieties?

– People in Norilsk travel often, their well-being is higher than in other cities of Russia. Therefore, having learned what good coffee and good service are, they want the same at home. And we try to live up to this story.

There are many varieties, and there are a lot of coffee-producing countries. But the whole secret is in the roasting. This is a complex process of heat treatment of green grain, during which the future taste of the drink is formed.

We try to offer such a product that 10–12 days, no more, have passed since it was fried. This allows you to drink coffee in its best form – fresh, and therefore richest in taste. By the way, in recent years, Russian roasters have become world champions more than once. This means that our coffee is now the best in the world. We started bringing coffee from domestic roasters about seven years ago. These are cool guys!

– How did your interaction with Nornickel begin?

– In a single-industry town, you can’t pass by the combine… We were engaged in servicing coffee machines, of which there are many in the Nornickel offices. No one else in the city took on such repairs except us. And it was interesting to me. We concluded a contract for the maintenance of 170 coffee machines at the company’s enterprises. In addition, after training in the Business Project Accelerator, which the company organizes for entrepreneurs, I more carefully worked out the promotion model.

As it turned out, the secretary in the office is the most important person on whom it depends whether they buy coffee from us or not. Therefore, we systematized a scheme for working with secretaries: “The boss loves it when there is coffee. The boss likes the coffee machine to be in good working order. And this is exactly our job”.

– How did you come to Accelerator?

– I heard that every year the company launches such training for entrepreneurs, but I was always late with registration. Last fall, it was a fortunate coincidence that our client told me about a new set of course participants. He said that there would be interesting speakers, and this motivated me much. More than the opportunity to get some money for business development.

Just at that time there was a feeling that we had hit the glass ceiling. I wanted to revive the business, look at familiar things from a different angle. And it was a success. Previously, I was embarrassed to advertise on social networks, thinking that there would be too much of it. At Accelerator they convinced me that I need to create content regularly and systematically. It is very important! We need to write plans in advance, plan plots. I internally resisted until I realized that this approach works.

It was very interesting to break my internal attitudes regarding pricing… I realized that due to the endless loyalty system, we were losing the value of the product, and people were getting used to it and demanding more and more discounts. Therefore, we revised the loyalty program and stopped giving out discounts left and right. And, by the way, nothing critical happened; on the contrary, our business got better.

In general, training gave me a lot. My brand was noticed at the Norilsk Development Agency. We showed that we have unique products, and we were invited to an exhibition in Moscow, where we generated a lot of traffic.

If earlier, because of my modesty, I was embarrassed by the title ‘Sergey, the head of coffee’, now I declare this with confidence, and this gives people the product’s quality guarantee.

And if there was time, I would be more involved in roasting, with the help of which you can adjust the taste even to a certain age of the consumer. I would like to travel around coffee plantations, study the experience of farmers and grain culture. But even today I vouch for the quality of the product that I offer to Norilsk residents.

The most difficult thing in Norilsk is logistics. Delivering goods by plane is expensive, by water – it takes a long time and is also not cheap. We operate in a highly competitive environment. Everyone sells coffee – confectionery shops chains and coffee shops, marketplaces, retail chains. Although this is, in my opinion, a rather mediocre coffee for the average buyer.

And we promote coffee culture, offer better quality varieties and at the same time try to keep them no more expensive than large chains. Therefore, during a period when prices are unstable, we decided to launch a project that would preserve the cost of coffee for the end consumer.

We brought varieties to Norilsk that cost less than well-known foreign brands, but in their taste and organoleptic qualities, in my opinion, they are much better. We have our own brand – we make mixtures that are ideal for our region. Because we take into account not only the tastes of Norilsk residents, but even the composition of the water. And now our task is to enter the city’s retail chains with our product.

– What is the name of your brand?

– We’ve kept our name Кофе-друг (Coffee Friend). There are different blends: soft, strong, classic and even Arctic Coffee Friend. We are currently in the process of repackaging our business. We are introducing a new logo, a new packaging design – cans and packs.

– Will you purchase packaging equipment with the Nornickel’s loan?

– Yes. Some have already been purchased, but it has not yet arrived in Norilsk. We are only negotiating with other manufacturers. We want to get exactly the equipment that we need, and not what suppliers currently have in stock. It is important for us that it is compact so that we can quickly reconfigure it depending on needs.

Among other things, we’ve ordered new packaging. We would like to make sure that the consumer sees our products.

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Text: Elena Popova, Photo: and personal archive of Sergey Serbin

June 28, 2024

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