Royale Pacifique – A Coffee Roasting Success Story in New Caledonia

In May of this year I had the pleasure of supplying and installing a 60kg Coffee Roasting line in New Caledonia for local company Royal Pacifique S.A. This being my first visit to the island which was surprisingly only a one and a half hour flight from Brisbane. The Café Culture team on hearing of my visit asked if I could share my experience.

I have to admit I was a bit surprised when I was contacted by co-owner and Managing Director Nicolas Fouligny after initially providing quotes back in July of 2011. This strengthened my belief that you never know where your next sale is going to come from and how important it is to make every effort to respond to enquiries no matter where they come from. From my initial conversations with Nicolas I immediately knew this would be a fun and exciting project to work on. It is great to be able to experience other coffee markets and learn from their culture and history. Nicolas was more than happy to educate me on the history of his company which is an amazing story of growth and success.

The French took formal possession of New Caledonia in 1853 under orders from Napolian III. The island with a population of 256,000 contains an eclectic cultural mix of Kanak people (the original inhabitants), white Europeans, Polynesian people and South East-Asian People. French is the main language spoken on the Island and there are quite number of indigenous languages spoken as well. New Caledonia contains approximately 25% of the world’s nickel resources and the islands economy is heavily reliant on the mining industry. The island is a truly a paradise just off our shores and one that every Australian should enjoy at some point in their lives.

Royal Pacifique was founded in 1921 to take advantage of the quality coffee grown in New Caledonia’s sub-tropical climate with rich fertile soil and has only had 2 owners since then. The country was well known for its Leroy Coffee (also known as Pointed Bourbon) once enjoyed by Winston Churchill. Over 90% of the coffee grown on the island is of a Robusta variety however efforts are being put into growing the specialty coffee segment mainly of the Red Bourbon Arabica variety. Whilst in the past the company had focused on locally grown coffee, these days Nicolas informed me that the majority of coffee they roast in Royale Pacifique is imported from Australian broker Cofi Com. The main origins used in their blends are from Papua New Guinea, Central/South America, Hawaii and Brazil. The bulk of their sales is in their traditional line of Royale Pacifique ground and whole beans which have been in the market since the company was founded in 1921. Royale Pacifique have in total around 60 various products including the various house brands they produce for mainly local French chains. The also roast and pack for coffee pods which they have been doing since 2006. Their third area of coffee supply comes from instant soluble coffee which Nicolas says unfortunately represents the biggest consumption locally.

It was great to see the busy operation in action. The company also handles all their own distribution with 4 small trucks that take on average two full days to cover the whole island and also the smaller ones. The Royal Pacifique brand is everywhere on the island and Nicolas proudly tells me that they are sold in all stores on the island. Recently they have been developing their distribution to the catering sector as well as mining camps.

Through ongoing quality of their products and dedicated customer service, Royale Pacifique have grown to now occupy two thirds market share of the local whole and ground coffee market. The rapid growth over the previous decade was the catalyst for Royale Pacifique to upgrade their roasting facility. When I arrived it was hard to believe that they had been doing over 5 ton a week on a 1960’s Probat diesel roaster and a recently decommissioned 20kg French diesel roaster after 45 years of service that was originally wood fired. They had been working these machines to the bone and after the order was place for the new equipment the sense of urgency became apparent after the French roaster had broken down and was unrepairable. Prior to the installation there was a period of 2 to 3 months where they were trying to manage this volume with the one roaster. The sense of relief expressed from Nicolas once the roaster was delivered was clearly evident.

Coffee Roasters Australia supplied a 60kg Has Garanti Diesel Coffee Roaster with PLC control, 120kg Stainless Steel Destoner and all the ductwork. The equipment arrived safely and was unpacked when I arrived for the installation. The first job was to position the equipment and connect it together. We managed to get this part done in a relatively short time on the Sunday I arrived. On the Monday I met with local electrician Patrick who along with his team commenced the installation of the 3 phase electrical circuit. I got to know Patrick quite well while there and really enjoyed hearing of his life story. I was very impressed with his professionalism and being based on a relatively small island he had extensive experience as an industrial electrician covering most industries on the island. Patrick was also kind enough to introduce to the local delicacy of escargot one night. I was relieved when it came out smothered with enough garlic and butter to provide a familiar taste. Whilst Patrick’s team were working on the electrical connection work was also done on the diesel tank connection.

There were some scary times trying to get a forklift into the facility via a crane “island style”. How someone didn’t end up hospitalised from that operation was a miracle. For the local contractors it just seemed like another day on the job which in many ways reminded of the construction worked I witnessed in Shanghai working off bamboo scaffolding. The rest of the installation went through pretty smoothly. We had some issues with the voltage fluctuations on the 3 phase circuit that required some adjusting to the variable speed drives. Being in an industrial area the fluctuations were quite high at certain periods of the day. Once the installation was complete that left us with a couple of days for training with the head roaster and his young apprentice.

One of the highlights of the trip was witnessing head roaster Edouard’s look of utter fear and bewilderment at the site of the PLC touchscreen panel. He had never seen such technology and when Nicolas informed me of his story it all made sense. Edouard is a second generation roaster at Royale Pacifique having following in his father’s footsteps. Edouard used to come home from school and chop wood for his father to use as fuel for the companies wood roaster (the same one only recently decommissioned). Edouard, in his late 50’s has been with the company a very long time, roasting on the same roasters so the site of the new technology was understandably a scary prospect for him. Nicolas advised me that Edouard was hesitant and wanted to keep roasting on the Probat he was used to and have the apprentice name Dominique learn on the new one.

After a few demonstrations and some calming reassurance Edouard was on his way roasting on the new roaster with ease. The first day he roasted approximately 20 batches back to back and there was no longer any interest from Edouard in the old roaster which was formally handed over to young apprentice Dominique to continue his initiation. Production was again working like clockwork with the ladies in the packing room now struggling to keep up with the roasted coffee now piling up. It had been the other was round for quite some time so the jokes between the staff, albeit difficult to understand in French, were amusingly translated by Nicolas.

Nicolas has recently advised me that the future looks very promising. Since the installation they been proudly displaying their new roasting line to customers and have picked up new contracts both local and international. In 2014 Royale Pacifique will be moving into a newly purpose built facility. We have started work with them on a new roasted coffee silo and grinding system in order to improve production efficiencies. Hopefully if I get to go over again I will have time to enjoy more of the majestic wonders the island has to offer.