“Our mission is to democratise the café experience” – Barista Sri Lanka CEO, Dilupa Pathirana

Barista Sri Lanka CEO Dilupa Pathirana speaks to World Coffee Portal about his ambitious plans to nearly triple the size of the business by 2025, the importance of digital channels in the post-pandemic market and why making café culture accessible to all remains a top priority 

Dilupa Pathirana, CEO of Barista Sri Lanka | Photo credit: Barista Sri Lanka

India’s Barista opened its first store in Sri Lanka way back in 2002, making it one of the country’s first coffee chains to expand internationally. With 26 outlets and plans for 50 new stores by 2025, Barista Sri Lanka continues to deliver innovation on the South Asian island with a focus on digital transactions, convenience and affordability. 

What’s behind Barista’s appeal in the Sri Lankan market? 

Barista’s success can be attributed to two core factors: our strong connection with consumers and vigilance to the business environment. A forward-thinking approach of anticipating consumer preferences has set us apart and enabled us to stay ahead of the game in the competitive coffee industry.  

Customer service has always been a top priority for Barista. As the largest café chain in Sri Lanka, we recognise the significance of delivering exceptional service to our customers. To achieve this, we invest considerable time and effort in training and developing our staff. Our team members are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to provide a memorable experience to every customer who walks through our doors.  

How did Barista Sri Lanka navigate the challenges of the pandemic?

Our post-pandemic growth strategy at Barista is firmly anchored in a transformational agenda we established in 2018. Central to our approach are six guiding principles that drive our actions: To claim the undisputed leadership in coffee industry; to be the best value generator for coffee; engage and inspire our employees; ignite an emotional attachment with our customers; expand our presence and create innovative growth platforms for our business.  

Our recovery has been robust and affirming. It reflects the successful execution of our transformational agenda and the unwavering commitment of our team. Notably, during the previous financial year, Barista achieved its highest revenue and profit figures in the company’s history, underscoring the strength and resilience of our business model.  

“We are determined to completely eradicate plastic from our operations by the end of 2024” 

How would you describe trading conditions in Sri Lanka currently? 

The Sri Lankan economy has faced significant challenges, with stagnation being a persistent issue even before the Covid-19 pandemic and economic recession further worsened the situation. As a result of a contraction in the economy, consumers' discretionary income has been adversely affected, causing them to reconsider their spending habits. 

However, amid these challenges, we took an innovative approach to address the issue and make a positive impact on the café industry. Our mission is to democratise the café experience by making coffee more affordable and readily available to our consumers.  

We recognised that growth should not only be limited to our company but should also extend to the sector as a whole, to ensure a sustainable and inclusive approach. By offering coffee at more affordable prices and streamlining our operations to reduce overheads, we were able to make the café experience accessible to a wider segment of the population. As a result, we witnessed an encouraging response from consumers who appreciated the value and quality we provided at a reasonable cost.  

What was behind Barista’s recent focus on convenience? 

The introduction of Barista Express outlets has significantly contributed to our ability to reach new customers and expand our market presence. These outlets have proven to be an effective means of attracting customers who seek quick and convenient coffee options, allowing us to tap into previously untapped markets and demographics.  

Moreover, in the face of turbulent times and ever-changing business environments, the introduction of Barista Express outlets enabled us to stay agile and adaptable. By embracing lean principles, we have streamlined our operations and optimised efficiency, positioning ourselves for sustained success even in challenging circumstances.  

Convenience-focused store formats, like drive-thru, coffee-on-the-wheels and Barista Express outlets, have been the driving force behind our continued growth and success. They have empowered us to make coffee a part of people's daily lives, catering to their busy schedules while upholding the high standards of quality and service that define the Barista brand. With a steadfast commitment to our customers and a willingness to embrace change, we have leveraged these formats to expand our reach and make Barista the go-to destination for coffee lovers everywhere. 

Barista achieved its highest revenue and profit figures in the company’s history in 2022 | Photo credit: Barista Sri Lanka

What are the latest consumer trends in Sri Lanka? 

There’s a growing trend of customers seeking cafés as workspaces, leading to a demand for comfortable furniture, high-speed Wi-Fi, and value-for-money food and beverages. Post-pandemic, digital purchasing platforms have surged, and Barista took the lead by introducing the first-ever e-shop and coffee app in the Sri Lankan coffee market.  

Despite these advancements, our core winning value proposition remains unchanged: top-notch coffee quality and exceptional Barista-branded customer service. We prioritise value addition by procuring the finest ingredients and training our baristas to brew the perfect cup. Responsive communication, technology utilisation, and understanding customer needs ensure a consistently positive experience.  

How is Barista working towards eradicating plastic from its operations?  

Barista recognises the significant environmental threat posed by plastic and polytene waste in Sri Lanka, with daily waste reaching close to 7,500 tonnes. As the largest café chain in the country, we take our responsibility towards the environment and community seriously. Over the past few years, we have made tough decisions, both financially and operationally, to eliminate plastic and polytene from our operations. Despite the widespread availability of cheaper and more convenient options, we have chosen to invest in more degradable and compostable alternatives because we understand the importance of environmental preservation.  

In 2020 we ceased the sale of plastic water bottles and eliminated plastic straws from all our outlets. In 2023, we went further by replacing cup lids with sugar cane pulp-based lids, effectively saving over five tons of plastic annually. Our commitment is unwavering, and we are determined to completely eradicate plastic and polytene from our operations by the end of 2024. We firmly believe that running a successful business should not come at the cost of the environment's well-being.  

What next for Barista in Sri Lanka?  

We have already begun building the future of Barista by actively embracing global trends and innovations. We have set ambitious plans for expansion, with the foundation already laid for 50 new outlets to be established by 2025. We are confident in the capabilities of our partners and a world-class leadership team, who will capitalise on the significant global development opportunities, creating value for all stakeholders involved.  

As we move forward, Barista will continue to evolve and grow, ensuring that our presence in Sri Lanka remains the same with exceptional coffee experiences and a dedication to making a meaningful difference. 

Dilupa Pathirana is CEO of Barista Sri Lanka.

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