Single-serve espresso maestros Shanghai. Though they'd quietly been operating out of the lower level of Xujiahui's Grand Gateway Mall since the end of May, they went public with a big bash last month to celebrate the opening of their 200th boutique worldwide in Shanghai. It's also the third in China, with Hong Kong and Beijing having already pipped it to the post.
It's a sign of the times in China that there's a market for these pricey but sleekly designed and uber-practical machines. Along with a ravenous thirst for the contemporary, the fashionable and the expensive, the Chinese nouveau-riche have developed a taste for the bean and, with mighty forces of mocha-globalization like Starbucks, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Costa Coffee laying the groundwork, this nation of tea drinkers is rapidly broadening its palate.
Selling an average of 10 machines per day with a price tag of RMB 3988, Nespresso is doing a fine job of pitching its take on the luxe-coffee lifestyle. Though in the first month or so, about 70% of customers were foreigners, things have now evened out to about 50-50.
[pullquote]China is becoming much more relaxed. People are starting to enjoy life more and looking for new ways to enjoy it. For many it's wine and coffee or cigars. — Michael Gu, Shanghai Nespresso Boutique Manager[/pullquote]
From a marketing standpoint, they're not just selling a coffee machine of course, they're selling a lifestyle and entry into an exclusive club of sophisticated coffee-drinkers.
All new machine owners are invited to a VIP training session that takes place in the store's private room, whose polished dark wooden doors curve around to section off a Nespresso coffee pod-like space from the world outside. Here they are initiated into the history of coffee, Nespresso's quest to use only the finest beans in the world and how to find their way around the 16 different "Grand Crus" on offer. Now suitably educated, this team of apostles is ready to head out and spread the word.
Before joining Nespresso, Boutique Manager Michael Gu was working for eight years in a 5-star hotel. A trained barista and restaurant manager, he's witnessed this transformation take place right under his nose.
"China is becoming much more relaxed. People are starting to enjoy life more and looking for new ways to enjoy it. For many it's wine and coffee or cigars."
"I started out as a waiter," he says, "many people just didn't know what wine to order or how to drink it, they'd order a Lafite and put ice in it! It always hurt me to see that."
He left the hotel business to join Nespresso six months ago and is enjoying sharing his knowledge and educating his customers. "A lot of people still think of coffee as the soluble granules you get in sachets. They're not familiar with espresso, and that's where we come in. We explain the difference between soluble coffee, how espresso is made and how our special Nespresso system works and how practical and fast it is—they usually expect it to be complicated and time-consuming."
[pullquote]"Shanghai is China’s gateway to the world and the world’s gateway to China." — Nestlé Nespresso CEO Richard Girardot[/pullquote]
And that is the beauty of the Nespresso machines. They're quick and easy and CLEAN... there's no need to get your hands dirty or coffee grinds under your perfectly-manicured nails, plus they look really cool. There's nothing like a fresh brewed cup of joe, but just imagine if your first ever home coffee experience had none of the typical mess—no gunked up milk-foamers or soggy filters...nothing but perfect espresso every time! What's not to love?
Nespresso aren't the only ones on an educational tip in Grand Gateway. Their recently-opened neighbors, the upscale Olé Supermarket, offers a decent selection of imported goods and is aimed at the brand-hungry high end shoppers that flock to Grand Gateway's big name boutiques. It's filled with helpful signs that hype the health benefits of fresh oranges and "excellent" carrots, or that explain Western breakfast items and the delicatessen (though an attempt at introducing different types of ham loses something in translation... unless I'm the only one out there not familiar with "French sootiness ham").
Inevitable Chinglish stumbles aside, with its booming economy and ever-increasing spending power, purveyors of luxury items worldwide all want a piece of China (according to this Market Watch post, Chinese pockets are even deeper than previously thought), and more often than not that means establishing a beachhead in Shanghai.
For, in the words of Nestle Nespresso CEO Richard Girardot, "Shanghai is China’s gateway to the world and the world’s gateway to China." And as far as Nespresso is concerned, the Grand Gateway Mall is the gateway to a more caffeinated (and tidier) Shanghai—so come on by and try a cup!