Q&A: 5 To Go co-founder Radu Savopol on Romania's burgeoning coffee market

Founded by Radu Savopol and Lucian Bădilă in 2015, 5 To Go has grown into Romania’s largest coffee chain, with over 240 stores. In 2020 it was among the fastest-growing coffee chains in Europe. Combining quality and convenience with a flat 5 Lei price for every product in-store, the brand’s co-founder Radu Savopol answers five questions about Romania’s burgeoning coffee market and how his brand has captured the hearts and minds of consumers

5 To Go co-founders Radu Savopol (right) and Lucian Bădilă | Photo credits: All photos courtesy of 5 To Go



Tell us about how 5 To Go was founded. What inspired you to start a coffee chain in Romania?
5 To Go was born in 2015 from our vision to instigate change in the Romanian coffee shop market. After 20 years’ experience in the foodservice and hotel industries, I decided it was time to do something different. I carefully studied coffee consumption habits in Bucharest and, together with Lucian, devised a solution to meet the market requirements we had identified: Reliability in terms of price point and quality; simplicity with a to-go solution at a fixed price; and convenience with easily accessible coffee shops. Combined, these elements represent our mission to redefine the experience of buying and enjoying coffee in Romania.
 

5 To Go’s flat price structure is relatively unique in Europe. What is the secret of its appeal with consumers?

It is not a secret, but a formula. For us, the success relies in the connection we build with customers. The 5 To Go concept succeeds in creating an emotional bond, which enhances the brand experience. We communicate with customers from the minute they enter our stores until they leave with a coffee in their hands.
 

"I believe there is now an established coffee culture in Romania"

 

Our cup design is another main point of attraction, with characters we have introduced, such as ‘Mr. Big’, reinforcing the brand dialogue. The design of our coffee shops also creates a warm and friendly atmosphere, where people are always welcomed with a smile. Like our slogan says: ‘Smile, there’s coffee!’.


5 To Go is also a brand that listens. We always ask the opinion of our community, and we build our activities based on their feedback. Our customers trust us to deliver quality coffee at a fixed price, conveniently. Our franchisees are another important success factor. Their determination and passion is crucial for the success of the business. They are the engine that keeps the business evolving.
 

Romania’s coffee shop market is one of the fastest growing in Europe. How has the market evolved in recent years?

Indeed, the Romanian market is growing fast, and 5 To Go has contributed to this growth as a pioneer of the to-go coffee trend over the last five years. Nevertheless, Romania still has huge development potential. We have annual coffee consumption per capita of about 2.7 kg, while across Nordic countries the per capita quantity can reach up to 12kg.

I believe there is now an established coffee culture in Romania. In the last 20 years we have seen the coffee segment become much more widespread, with well-developed independent and specialty cafés emerging. Quality coffee has also attained well-deserved attention across Romanian bars and restaurants and has developed into an important ritual for consumers.
It is also important to mention that all the big global coffee brands are now present in Romania. This confirms that coffee has a special place for Romanian consumers.

5 To Go’s Pop Art-inspired branding


 

5 To Go has managed to keep growing throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. What have been some of the biggest business lessons you have learned?

The ability to be agile has been a big success factor for us. We have been relentlessly communicating within the business, to the team, our partners, and consumers, and we have been fast in taking decisions with courage and trust. Our partnership with investment fund Mozaik Investments, signed at the end of 2019, has also been a great asset for the business’ growth during this challenging time. It has given us the resources to promote development, including financial support for franchisees, and generating opportunities for finding new store locations.
We have also opened new retail sales channels, launching 5 To Go coffee for home consumption and introducing a specialty coffee brand.

We always put people at the centre of our decisions, be they franchisees, employees or consumers. In the context of the pandemic, we took bold business decisions, looking at the long-term benefits instead of immediate wins or losses.
 

Can you tell us more about 5 To Go’s future expansion plans – will the brand expand into new markets?

For Romania, we are targeting 300 stores by the end of 2021, and we aim to reach 1,000 stores in the coming five years. We are confident the plans are feasible, and we have built a development model aiming at small cities, where the to-go coffee segment still has low penetration.

Another important direction for the future is international expansion. We have designed a business model that can adapt to international markets while retaining the brand DNA that has defined our success. We have already received international recognition of our brand, winning the Silver at the European Coffee Awards in the category Best Coffee Chain from Central and Eastern Europe and the special jury prize for “European Concept Award” by IREF in 2019. We believe in the international potential of our concept, and we are already in discussions for the launch in France and the UK, which we hope to be completed in 2021.
 

This article was first published in Issue 7 of 5THWAVE magazine.

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