Coffee culture in Asia has been living a booming moment, coffee being a small indulgence that people keep enjoying everywhere in the world. From coffee chains to boutique coffee shops Asia has been seeing coffee shops mushrooming around.
Retail in Asia had the pleasure to interview Co-founder and CEO of Flash Coffee, David Jonathan Brunier, about his vision & mission and plans on expanding in the Asian market.
Flash Coffee is a fully tech-enabled coffee chain based in Singapore with locations across APAC serving an award-winning menu of high-quality drinks at affordable prices from its iconic yellow storefronts.
Before founding Flash Coffee, David worked at Delivery Hero for several years, then moved to Singapore shortly after Delivery Hero SE’s IPO in 2017 in order to drive growth for foodpanda as the CMO for APAC.
With its positioning as a ‘Grab and Go’ business model, Flash Coffee is able to operate on significant cost savings.
At the moment, David has established 57 Flash Coffee outlets and more than 200 team members in Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore to deliver the promise of making premium coffee accessible to Asia’s rising middle class.
With Strong investor support for Series A round enables to harness untapped potential in the region and replicate success in seven new markets this year, including Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
Currently Flash Coffee is opening three new outlets per week, an already ambitious pace that will be tripled to 10 store launches per week in order to open 300 additional stores across the region by end of this year.
RiA: In the past few years, coffee culture has been rising in Asia. What and how was the brand journey of Flash Coffee unfolded in Singapore?
David: Sebastian Hannecker and I co-founded the company to make premium coffee accessible to Asia’s rising middle class. Our experience in delivery and consulting have informed Flash Coffee’s disruptive grab-and-go business model, allowing for significant cost savings to be passed on to our customers.
When I left foodpanda, Rocket Internet CEO Oliver Samwer reached out to me and offered the capital to build a new startup together if there was a concept about which I was truly passionate. I was fascinated by Luckin Coffee’s tech and execution-driven growth story and started looking into the coffee industry. Shortly thereafter, Seb and I were introduced and we decided to take on the challenge of making great coffee accessible to the Asian mass market.
With regards to the brand development of Flash Coffee, we wanted something descriptive of what we sell, yet aligned to our bold character. While the word “Flash” itself is simple, we have positioned Flash Coffee as a bold brand with its striking yellow colour scheme. It is incredibly easy to remember and hints at the flashiness and distinctiveness of our brand. We want to relate the significantly improved customer experience, which is driven by speed of service. “Coffee” is because that is our core product, of which we are extremely proud.
RiA: How do you identify Flash Coffee’s customer profile?
David: Our customer profile is targeted towards millennials and young professionals (18-35 years) in the growing middle class. Our customers might have a slightly higher disposable income than average as well. Given their busy lifestyles, they are also more tech-savvy than the target groups of incumbent brands.
We make great coffee accessible to the middle class by offering it at affordable prices. Customers of mom-and-pop shops are looking for branded and higher quality products and are happy to switch to Flash Coffee given the great quality at attractive price points.
At the same time, there are many customers who switch from the likes of more established brands and chain to us, as they are looking for higher quality, yet more affordable, coffee options to enjoy on a daily basis.
RiA: What do you think are the key features and elements that differentiate Flash Coffee from other coffee concepts?
David: First and foremost, that would be product quality and service:
While other affordable chains provide lower quality or cheaper coffee beans (mostly a high share of Robusta beans), Flash Coffee uses 100% Arabica coffee beans, and we have four internationally renowned barista champions that curate our menus and train our teams. We also provide high-quality, delivery-optimised packaging for our products.
Our aim is to provide customers with a coffee experience they would usually only get at a specialty coffee shop or at Starbucks. In the future, our baristas will not only be well trained and accommodating to our customers, but they will also know their names and favourite drinks to individualise the process of communicating with them, all thanks to technology.
Our technology makes our pricing unbeatable:
Most other players in the industry tend to be offline F&B businesses that have put little effort into technology. We see Flash Coffee as a tech company at its core, as we use our consumer app to bring convenience to our customers with our pickup and delivery offers. In addition, we acquire and retain users via performance marketing, CRM and app features such as a refined loyalty programme, subscriptions, coffee wallets, gifting and more.
We are the most or among the most affordable tech-enabled coffee chains in all the markets we are operating in or are entering.
You will never forget our brand:
Our vibrant, eye-catching brand resonates strongly with our young target group. We create coffee and lifestyle trends with our award-winning baristas, unique and empowering positioning (known as the “Nike of Coffee”) and increasing relevance in Asian lifestyles.
We strive for a fully data based approach in everything we do. For example, the choice of striking signal colours – yellow and pink – help drive awareness and customer acquisition to the brand.
Flash Coffee’s management team has extensive experience in building, scaling and managing large-scale businesses in an international setup. We will leverage this experience to penetrate the coffee market in Asia.
RiA: Coffee chain business is somehow dominated by big players. We have recently seen more individual businesses launching in the region to meet the demands of the small economy, how and where do you position Flash Coffee?
David: Coffee – especially from well-known brands – is extremely expensive and hence, inaccessible to the Asian middle class. In fact, the majority of the coffee industry still runs fully offline and lacks convenience, leaving incredible opportunities for digitisation and optimised processes. We noticed that customers were constantly paying high prices for coffee from large outlets with extensive seating in expensive neighbourhoods, while the majority of orders were grab-and-go.
We want our Flash Coffee outlets to have a significantly higher output with less staffing than comparable businesses. In fact, we are currently working on an incentive model to have baristas participate in our stores’ performance.
Flash Coffee has created a concept that eliminates the inefficiencies of traditional business models, as we have chosen to invest in the product itself instead. In order to create the best-possible customer experience, we combine high quality drinks with affordable prices and tech-driven convenience via our own consumer app.
In terms of the positioning for Flash Coffee, we have an innovative menu curated by renowned baristas from Southeast Asia, with menu items like Nutella Latte, Avo Latte, Oatly Cappuccino, and many others. Our striking brand was specifically created for our target customer, and is empowering for Asia’s rising middle class. We prefer to position ourselves as a bold and individualistic consumer brand, instead of a traditional coffee brand.
Our app also caters to tech-savvy consumers, who can order and pay for their drinks online, have them delivered or prepared for a quick pick-up. Consumers can also utilise Flash Coffee’s advanced loyalty programme, or its newly-launched gamification feature called “Challenges”.
Flash Coffee is able to provide consumers with an incredible value for their money, as the cost efficiencies gained from the digitised concept allows us to serve high-quality products at affordable prices.
RiA: What is your upcoming plan for Asian expansion for Flash Coffee?
David: We are planning to grow Flash Coffee’s presence in the Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore markets. In addition, we are planning to expand into seven new markets in Asia, namely Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea.
RiA: Why did you choose Singapore to start with the coffee business? Why are you choosing Hong Kong and Taiwan as the next destinations?
David: We first launched in Jakarta, but chose Singapore as the headquarters of our Flash Coffee business as it has a great access to global, regional and local talent.
Singapore is a renowned multi-cultural, tech-forward city that has strong government support, and a solid ecosystem for businesses to operate. In addition, it is a receptive and advanced consumer test market for businesses.
We see massive potential and space for affordable quality coffee in the Hong Kong and Taiwan markets. These new markets have been chosen due to their great combination of population size, population density, higher-than-average coffee consumption per capita, rapidly rising average income and a larger percentage of residents within our target group, namely young and tech-savvy office workers.