Friday, September 24, 2021

60 years transforming Delta into the coffee of our lives

Fotos gentilmente cedidas pela Delta Cafés

Interview with Rui Nabeiro, Founder and Chairman of Grupo Nabeiro-Delta Cafés

Ana Valado

Delta first emerged in 1961, housed in a warehouse with a fraction over 50 square metres and three employees. Today, the Nabeiro group spans the most diverse areas: from food to hotels, automobiles to real estate. From Campo Maior, Delta set off to conquer the world and now maintains a presence in over 35 different countries spread across five countries and accounting for the jobs of 3,500 persons.
This year the company, which is also a family, is commemorating its 60th anniversary.


In 1961, at a time when the coffee market seemed firmly established and unwilling to change, especially at a time when the population lacked in purchasing power, the young Alentejan Rui Nabeiro, at the time aged just 30 but having already clocked up 17 years of professional experience, knew very well how to adapt and nurture the difference.

Clients were won over one by one, face-to-face, on journeys that would take Rui Nabeiro the length and breadth of Portugal in keeping with the slogan that now, six decades later, still reflects his work and his legacy: one client, one friend.

However, this journey has never been easy. The first year of Delta was especially harsh. This was probably the period when Rui Nabeiro got the response “No” the most. This never prevented him from continuing; on the contrary, this drove him forwards with still greater conviction.

Officially inaugurated in February 1961, in a 50m2 warehouse with two roasting scoops, Delta was forced to get creative in order to prevail. “At the beginning, I was not able to sell a kilo of coffee. But imagination helped and I began selling the barley based drinks which the people were able to afford”, explained Rui Nabeiro, who in these early years balanced this new challenge with his work for Torrefação Camelo, where he had begun his working life with his uncle.

The way of doing business also made the difference. On understanding that his competitors did not get out to visit the clients, not even to provide assistance when needed, the young entrepreneur began delivering from door-to-door, granting credit, easing payment facilities and thereby fostering the close relationships that still today remain the secret to Delta’s success.

Evolution of company logos

The brand name was proposed by the agency that at the time took care of the company’s patents and brands. “My intention was to give it my name”, Rui Nabeiro revealed, “but the pleasant sound and ease of pronunciation in different languages was enough to convince me”.

In 1968, Rui Nabeiro purchased the Herdade das Argamassas estate, where he would set about installing the Novadelta industrial complex. The 106 hectares of land saw the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the company that would then unfurl in different directions.

Once again, in amongst the vineyards and next to the factory, there is the location of Adega Mayor, inaugurated in 2007, with its design by the architect Siza Vieira and the outcome of the great passion of Rui Nabeiro both for wines and his land. Another dream achieved and operational; on this occasion with his granddaughter, Rita Nabeiro.

Today, 60 years later, we may state that Delta reflects the achieving of the biggest dream of “Mister Rui”, as he is fondly referred to by all who know him. However, he is not alone in this as he himself likes to affirm: “Life is one permanent dream”.

Currently, Delta is a company with a past but very much with its eyes set on the future with a heritage of great responsibility and that, according to the founder himself, “requires a firm, rigorous, strong and courageous attitude” on behalf of the family that runs the company and that is committed to taking the firm forwards. “You shall be responsible, you who already are, for maintaining what there is and growing every day. Because there is the family for this”, the patriarch frequently tells his children and grandchildren with whom he manages the national market leader in its sector and provides employment to over 3,500 members of staff.

Over the course of six decades of Delta history, there have been many transformations for the company as it evolved from a small coffee focused business to become an empire.

From Campo Maior to the four corners of the world

Delta had already embarked on its route to internationalisation back in 1986, when opening a department in Badajoz and moving into the Spanish market, and with this goal reaffirmed in 1998 with the launch in Angola. Nevertheless, it was this century when the company set off for a series of new destinations, moving directly into France in 2007 and Luxembourg in 2011.

In 2012, Delta established a direct presence in Brazil. Through Delta Foods Brasil, with its headquarters in São Paulo, the Nabeiro Group entered what was up to that point its largest single market. Just a couple of years later, that record would get smashed with the opening of operations in China.

The national market leader, Delta today reaches out to 35 different countries across five continents, whether in terms of a direct or indirect presence as well as through partnerships with local distributers.

With exports now accounting for over 30% of the Nabeiro Group turnover, the company management now dreams of raising this to over 50% on the way to positioning Delta Cafés among the ten largest coffee brands in the world through to 2030.

Adega Mayor
Photo: Gonçalo Vilaverde

Centro de Ciência do Café
Crédito: CCC

Awoke to the future

Innovation. Sustainability. Social Responsibility. These are the three foundation stones that support the activities of Delta, as well as all the other brands in the Nabeiro Group in order to demonstrate how many years in the market may reflect solidity and not stagnation.

The leading factor is social responsibility, inspired on the vision of its own founder who believes in achieving not to accumulate but rather to share and that the secret of business always lies in its people.

With the objective of sharing and revealing coffee to the world, the very reason for the existence of Delta, 2014 saw the opening of the new Centre of Coffee Science, located on the Herdade das Argamassas estate. A place for interpreting, scientific and technological promotion as well as for tourism, this facility aims to become a landmark reference in the field of scientific, technological, educational, tourism and scientific development.

The second factor is innovation, an essential tool for maintaining the relevance of the products and services provided while surprising and stimulating the market itself.

One example of this is the robot that served up coffee at the Web Summit, the result of a partnership between Delta Q and Follow Inspiration, a Portuguese start-up. With an incorporated coffee machine, the Qoffee Qar robot monitors the people around it through means of artificial intelligence and facial recognition.

The third facet is sustainability that has featured on the Nabeiro Group agenda ever since the 1990s but that has now taken on very particular relevance as reflected by the extremely ambitious plans designed to ensure the 2020s become the most sustainable ever.

Interweaving these three different foundations, there emerge new products such as the Delta Q eQo capsule, which is 100% organic and biodegradable, without any plastics, microplastics or aluminium involved. This also comes accompanied by a promise: “by 2025, they’ll all be like this”.

Within the same framework, Novadelta, the Group factory, is switching to 100% clean and renewable sources of energy. The ReciclQla program has been selectively gathering used capsules for their appropriate reprocessing when they would otherwise have been thrown away. Furthermore, the Group vehicle fleet, which already is entirely electric powered in Lisbon, is undergoing renovation within the scope of rendering all 100 Delta vehicles 100% electric by 2025.

Another step forward comes with the recent partnership between Delta Cafés and the start-up Nãm Urban Farms. The idea is to make usage of coffee grinds given that only 2% of their biomass gets consumed and thus involving substantial waste that here gets deployed in growing mushrooms. Delta collects the coffee grinds and Nãm transforms them into mushrooms.

Currently operational in Marvila, in what is Greater Lisbon’s first ever urban farm, Nãm now has the monthly capacity to transform three tons of coffee grinds into one ton of mushrooms.

Within this same cycle of sustainability, the two companies wish to deepen their cooperation and boost the level of output from one to four tons of mushroom per month.

Over the long term, this also dreams of bringing coffee production into Portugal. Delta and the Association of Coffee Producers of the Azores are working together in order to evaluate and improve on the aspects involved in the production, processing and sale of coffee in the region. This project would be able to seriously reduce the carbon footprint associated with the sector as well as enhancing the productivity of national resources. 

The Nabeiro family: Rita Nabeiro, Rui Miguel Nabeiro, João Manuel Nabeiro, Rui Nabeiro, Helena Nabeiro, Ivan Nabeiro and Marcos Tenório

Between 2023 and 2025, the prospects look extremely favourable for the launching of coffee from the Azores onto the national market.

In the year the company commemorates its 60th anniversary, Delta Cafés is launching a new communications campaign to celebrate its history and longevity, the pioneering spirit and innovations of a brand based on this vision of the future.

With the slogan “Awoke to the Future”, the 60th anniversary campaign celebrates the great capacity for innovation at Delta Cafés along a path looking firmly to the future in the search for the best solutions for all.

In a café conversation with Rui Nabeiro:

Providing a retrospective, over the course of your business career, what’s been your biggest achievement?

For somebody who started out practically with nothing, such as myself, I may say that my entire life has been made up of conquests. However, perhaps my greatest achievement was in thinking about how the competition worked and how I was going to be working. That for me was a victory.

I began Delta in the 1960s and I thought about how I might make a difference. I had one of the best sellers working with me at the time but he ended up quitting because he wasn’t able to sell a thing. He made me take to the road.

While others would dispatch their coffee from the factory by railway or truck, I would get in a van and deliver it to the door of clients, I’d give credit, make the payment deadlines a bit easier, everything that the competition would not do. And I won over the sympathy of the clients out of proximity. And this proximity is really important to the lives of human beings whatever the profession might be.

From this point onwards, things began happening. As I usually say: “When the others would set off looking for clients, I was already coming back with them”.

I also did not hang around waiting for the supplier to come and sell me the product for me to then go and sell the processed product. Right at that time, I began searching for coffee in the places where it was produced. I had the ambition to want to do things better!

Throughout my life, different opportunities would appear to get on growing and not only thinking about myself. My client began to get treated like a partner and that’s still how it is today.

To me, the client is the one who’s in charge.

In addition to the value of proximity, what else differentiates Delta from its competition and what makes it one of the most reputable of contemporary companies?

This is a sequence that has been ongoing but it does need a great deal of attention. I always tell my grandchildren and my children that you cannot miss a millimetre and always maintain the same level of demand that I have had right from the very outset.

We say that we are leaders but that does not mean anything. We have to struggle in order to continue being able to lead. And that is the added-value that I have, in thinking, in attitude, the way of thinking and the way that I serve those who serve me well, who is the client that buys from me.

This all applies to any situation in the life of anybody. With my staff in the factory, there is no boss-employee relationship, we are friends, it’s not I, it’s we! This is a working culture, a culture of providing service and a culture of knowledge that people feel satisfied with.

Our strength is always to make the client happy. And this proximity that I talk so much about has once again emerged in this pandemic phase that we are going through, what is the path, we knock on the doors of countless clients and ask if they need anything as we are also doing with our own staff. This is doing business!

What do your clients represent to you?

My strength comes from the client. The client, for me, comes before everything else. They are ahead of me, ahead of my staff and I live for this cause. I live in a feeling of thanks but also out of good service. For a client, I shall do everything that is necessary.

We know exactly who is with us; it’s as if family at least that’s perhaps the closest relationship that I can compare with. There are marvellous things between the supplier and the client. A client is more than a friend.

Knowing how, knowing how to laugh with each other, knowing how to be, this is in fact about being in the market.

Do you still have any more dreams to achieve?

Men are normally full of dreams. For example, we recently presented a new project in the area of sustainability, which takes advantage of coffee grinds to produce mushrooms. For the meantime, this is something small but that may become something big and the country needs a lot of things like these.

I’m fairly cautious; I like to be thinking about what I’m in the process of doing and I strongly support the field of sustainability.

I’m always dreaming, about the client, about the market, about everything and dreaming about doing big things. The grandchildren are at a good age, the children also at the right kind of age to get them all dreaming as well.

There are six members of the Nabeiro family connected to the company. What message would you give to the new generations that shall take over the business in the future?

I always say to my own: “We are that which we’ve always been”. When I started, I went through a difficult time but I was ambitious and got through it. And my own also have this ambition of wanting. A natural ambition. They are properly prepared and I know they’re not going to let me down.

You turned 90 this year with this the moment chosen for the launch of the book by José Luís Peixoto “Almoço de Domingo”, a biographic novel in which Rui Nabeiro is the main character and that tells the story of your life. What lessons and advice would you give to somebody who is starting out today?

Whoever is starting always has some difficulties. The best advice that I can give is exactly that which I did: work and believe that we are capable.

In a company, bringing four or five professionals together, competent, we’re able to get anywhere and make a life for everybody.

In the context that we’re currently living in due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is important to pass on this message and this culture. The desire and the belief in making everything happen. 

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