Lavazza is a household name in Europe, and in Italy especially, where it has captured the coffee market for four generations and remains one of the country’s leading brands in espresso and quality roasted coffee.
Yet like any multinational organization, Lavazza has humble beginnings, and more so than most corporations, it remains true to its roots.
Humble Beginnings and Blended Coffees
The international coffee giant Lavazza began as a small grocery store in Turin, bought and organized by Luigi Lavazza in 1895 for the total sum of 26,000 Italian lira.
Luigi Lavazza bought and sold many things from his store, yet chief among them was his coffee – a product that, at the time, was roasted and packaged individually for each customer, as Italians were already discerning coffee drinkers by the turn of the century.
While Luigi Lavazza provided for his family through the shop, he had a personal interest in coffee, particularly in the individual flavors and aromas produced by coffees grown in different parts of the world, including South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.
He quickly realized that if one were to blend complementary beans, one could produce an entirely new product – a coffee that, rather than being distinguished for its geography, could be distinguished for its profile and cupping characteristics by matching coffees from different producers based on smell and taste.
It was his own expertise that contributed to the success of his product, and by the time Italy transitioned into the 20th century, he had begun to prioritize wholesale trade, while grooming his children – Maria, Mario, Guiseppe (Beppe), and Pericle – to take over the family business.
In 1927, the Lavazza family founded Luigi Lavazza SpA, and began selling individually packaged coffee beans to customers rather than simply selling sacks of beans.
The packaging was special – made with two layers of paper, it allowed for more expressive labeling while keeping the coffee fresher, retaining its aroma more effectively than burlap or cloth.
To help advertise his growing brand, Lavazza worked with local artists to commission a figurine collection and made generous contributions to the local arts to further proliferate the Lavazza name.
Bringing Fresh Coffee into Italian Homes
By the end of the Second World War, Luigi had given total control over the company to his three sons, who innovated by patenting the cylindrical vacuum-sealed tin container that dominated the coffee industry for decades to come in 1950. 1947 also saw the introduction of the iconic Lavazza logo, with its central letter “A” bolded and printed larger than the rest of the name.
The practice of sealing freshly roasted and blended coffee in portable, sturdy metal tins allowed for increased production and the ability to advertise a fresh product to a much larger regional and national market.
By 1955, the third generation had entered the company’s ranks – Beppe’s son Emilio Lavazza, creator of the legendary Lavazza blend. The company came into full swing following the post-war economic boom of the late 50s and early 60s, and the Lavazza coffee brand expanded past the borders of Italy and through the rest of Europe.
By 1957, the Lavazza company was producing 40,000 kg of coffee per day.
International Proliferation and ¡Tierra!
1982 saw Lavazza’s first headquarters being opened outside of Italy, and by then the company had already begun educating the next generation of producers and roasters through the first of many Lavazza Training Centers.
The 1980s and 1990s saw the Lavazza brand reach new heights as it exported its products throughout the rest of Europe, and soon the world, but it always remained true to its roots in Turin, working with Turin artists and investing in the city to see it become an economic hub capable of rivaling Rome and Milan.
The Lavazza brand had become synonymous with Italian coffee, and espresso in particular, as Lavazza set up their own competitor to the easy-serve-espresso pod.
Yet with that success also came the responsibility to give back, and not just privately. While the Lavazza family had always invested in their producers, in 2004 they formally created a social responsibility and sustainability program in the form of the Giuseppe e Pericles Lavazza Foundation, an non-profit organization founded with the goal of improving the living conditions of those working in coffee-producing countries.
Alongside their new NPO, Lavazza launched the ¡Tierra! Blend, and continues to post yearly sustainability reports in an effort to highlight the company’s commitment to supporting coffee producers, relying on renewable sources of energy (100% of their French, Italian, and Canadian production plants run on green power), and eliminating their carbon footprint.
Another monument to the company’s commitment is its new headquarters in the Aurora district of Turin – the Nuvola, a $750 million project that doubles as a museum of coffee, and has been named one of the three most sustainable buildings in all of Italy.
Lavazza continues to invest a substantial portion of its resources into research and development, studying coffee, and experimenting with single-origin plants to conserve rare species and develop new flavors.
While the Lavazza brand was born and built on the newfound idea of blending coffees, the third wave of coffee is all about appreciating the nuance and personality behind a single-origin coffee, which the Lavazza company is aware of.
Diversification, sustainability, and a greater understanding of the ecological impact of coffee production in the immediate future are important issues for Lavazza and the coffee industry.
And despite its global reach and national fame – allegedly accounting for about a third of all coffee bought in Italy, no small feat given the country’s many competitive coffee companies – Lavazza has always remained true to the city of its birth, and its first headquarters at San Tommaso 10 can still be visited for a cup of coffee and a little history.