It’s late October when I travel to Marche, Italy for a visit organised by Simonelli Group to their brand new HQ in Belforte del Chienti. We drive on winding roads past mountains and medieval hill towns as the hot sun shines brightly in the sky. It’s a dramatic change of scene and pace after Milan, where I was just the day before to attend the hectic HOST Milan coffee fair.
In this beautiful corner of Italy, the Simonelli brand was born more than 80 years ago. The company, founded by Orlando Simonelli in 1936, never moved production away from this small pocket of land, located on the Adriatic coast southeast of Bologna. Today the company gives jobs to more than 100 employees, the majority of whom lives within 20-25km from the factory.
In a country that prides itself on manufacturing, from cars to espresso machines, every company has its own identity. Despite manufacturing 95% of their machines for foreign markets, the heart and soul of Simonelli Group remains here in the Marche. It's a region not commonly visited by tourists, and that's a shame—what it lacks in fame it makes up for in food, wine, culture, and natural beauty, a land of mountains meeting the sea, of Verdicchio and crudo.
The new 32,000-square-foot (3,000 sqm) headquarters are adjacent to Simonelli’s production facility and R&D department, which opened in 2005. The building is comprised of offices, showrooms of Nuova Simonelli and Victoria Arduino machines, 180 sqm auditorium, and a cafe. A 250-sqm museum dedicated to the history of coffee will open soon.
The unveiling of this new facility is not only important news for the company, which recently re-branded from Nuova Simonelli to Simonelli Group, but also for the region. This project was one of the first industrial investments to take place in Marche after the 2016 earthquake.
It’s my first time at a coffee factory and I’m excited to visit the production plant, but also to see all the historical machines displayed in the showroom, such as the iconic 1936 or the innovative 1952 Selene, the first machine with continuous brewing with a manual pump. Long gone are the days when Orlando Simonelli, a washing machine salesman with a passion for mechanics and coffee, built his first machine in his small workshop. Today, the company manufactures 35,000 coffee machines every year across two brands: Nuova Simonelli and Victoria Arduino. Counting all the possible iterations of each machine (models, versions, and colours), more than 1,000 different machines come out of the factory in Belforte del Chienti and are then exported to 121 countries around the world.
I meet with Mauro Parrini, COO of the Simonelli Group, and leads me on a tour of the factory. It’s Thursday early afternoon, but the production has already stopped for the day to make space on the floor for a gala dinner for buyers and distributors (and lucky journalists like me), which will start in a few hours. As I walk through the production lines, Parrini explains the different steps and initiatives taken by Simonelli Group to streamline operations and increase efficiency. For a start, the factory is a paper-free environment. Radio frequency identification tags are applied on each machine at the very beginning of the production phase so the machines can be tracked via GPS. Each and every one of the Nuova Simonelli and Victoria Arduino worldwide can be tracked via GPS and their behaviour and data checked by the research team in Italy.
Aside from its efforts to minimise time waste, Simonelli Group is engaged in improving its workplace for employees. There are small initiatives—staff are invited to contribute to a box of ideas (and awarded every year for the best contribution)—and big ones, like annual awards given out to the most efficient production team. In what must sound like a dream come from heaven to those working in places like London or the United States, working hours at the factory here in Marche are from 8:00am to 6:00pm with a two-hour lunch break, as most of the workers live close by and like to go home to have lunch with their families (and have a nap). In summer, they start and finish work early to spend the afternoons at the beach. As I chat to Parrini, I find myself dreaming of a slow-paced, family-oriented Italian life in the Marche, building beautiful machines by day and watching the sunset over the Adriatic each evening.
We continue the tour, past the R&D department, into the International Hub for Coffee Research and Innovation. This is a new initiative for Simonelli, a scientific laboratory was created in 2016 in collaboration with the University of Camerino to find new ways to improve performance and reduce consumption throughout the coffee chain from production to delivery. The lab employs chemists, physicians, mathematicians, and computer scientists, and one of the main focuses of the hub is sustainability. The researchers have run extensive life cycle assessments of the machines to calculate energy consumption, from sourcing the raw materials and building of the machine to shipping and usage in the coffee shop. They've determined that 95% of energy consumption happens in the coffee shop, so the main goal for Simonelli Group is to develop technologies that can raise performance levels while respecting the environment.
This experience in Marche, coupled with Simonelli Group's product launches at HOST (Aurelia Wave and Mythos Two), helped bring the moment full circle for me. Through innovation, Simonelli Group has grown from a small company in a little corner of Italy to become, perhaps improbably, one of the top coffee manufacturing companies worldwide. Here in Belforte del Chienti is where it all started, in the hand of a man named Orlando Simonelli—where it goes next will be determined by the scientists, designers, and extended family who keep his spirit of innovation alive, burning bright and working hard. But not so hard that they miss the beauty of Marche all around them.