Trouble brewing for classic Italian coffee pot
Pods and capsules dominate the market, leading to a decline in moka sales
For decades, millions of Italians at home and abroad have started their morning ritual waiting for the telltale whistling and bubbling sound signalling the moka pot is brimming with a strong brew of coffee.
But the original moka – a fixture in Italian homes and an icon of Italian design since it was introduced by Alfonso Bialetti in 1933 – now risks extinction as its maker struggles against bankruptcy amid a difficult Italian economy and fierce competition from high-tech coffee pod machines.
In October, the Bialetti group announced a raft of measures to address ß68m (R1.1bn) in debt and doubts over its continuity.
When Alfonso Bialetti introduced his patented design for the eight-sided aluminium stovetop espresso maker that moves boiling water, pressurised by steam, up through ground coffee, the Italian economy was in a terrible state.
It was 1933 – banks were failing, unemployment was high and Italians were cutting luxuries like trips to cafes – hence the demand for a pretty, in-house coffee machine.
More than 105 million moka pots have been produced since then and the original 1933 Bialetti design remains a favourite among aficionados keen on a frugal, sustainable brewing method that doesn’t scrimp on caffeine or quality.
The trusty, tarnished moka pot is one of the most common items Italians take abroad to study or work – a portable guarantee of un buon caffè.
That is partly how the iconic stove-top espresso maker became so popular in Latin America and Australia, where large Italian immigrant communities made the moka mainstream.
It is considered an iconic “Made in Italy” object, displayed at the London Science Museum and the Moma in New York.
Nielsen, the data analytics firm, has registered a boom in bars and cafes, with 150,000 coffee bars in Italy alone, including a Starbucks Reserve Roastery controversially opened in Milan in September.
But while more people appear to be enjoying coffee, moka makers have seen market share decline thanks to competition from coffee capsule machines. They have gained in popularity ever since George Clooney’s Nespresso adverts sparked the craze more than a decade ago.
In 2017, the ground coffee market lost 6% in volume in Italy, while capsule sales saw double-digit sales growth (up 23% from 2016), according to Nielsen.
“When it comes to large-scale distribution, sales of the capsules are growing rapidly while sales of ground coffee for the moka are declining – even here in Italy where 70% of families have a moka in their home,” said Francesca Arcuri, communications director for Filicori Zecchini, one of Italy’s oldest coffee companies.
As of the end of September, Bialetti owed more than ß500m a half a million euros (R7.8bn) in unpaid salaries to its employees and millions to the Italian state in unpaid taxes and contributions.
Company officials have been negotiating loans as part of a debt restructuring programme and applied for protection under Italy’s bankruptcy laws. – The Telegraph