Emilio Lavazza: Businessman who transformed his family business into a global brand

Emilio Lavazza was to Italians il re or il papa del caffe, or sometimes "Mr Espresso". He had dedicated more than 50 years of his high-pressure life to driving the development and international expansion of a family grocers' business which had struggled to regain its feet after the Second World War. Thanks largely to him, Lavazza is now the world's sixth-biggest coffee roaster, with very nearly half the Italian coffee market, 2,000 employees and total sales last year in more than 90 countries around the world worth more than £1bn.

Emilio Lavazza joined the company, which was founded in 1895 by his grandfather Luigi, in 1955 – the same year that his father, Beppe, and uncle Pericle purchased a new Lavazza factory on the Corso Novara in Turin, which is still the company headquarters today. Initially, Lavazza worked as a door-to-door salesman, delivering ground coffee to cafés and restaurants around Turin. His initial challenge was to build a sales force in northern Italy strong enough to keep the new factory running.

The late Fifties were boom years in Italy, and Lavazza's intuitive enthusiasm for advertising encouraged him to introduce his father to Armando Testa, who was creating post-war Italy's first major publicity agency. From that introduction sprang a nationwide poster campaign, whose success cemented a link between Lavazza and Testa which has continued without interruption ever since.

When a half-hour programme of television advertising, Carosello, became the most popular programme on Italian state TV, Lavazza and Testa ensured that their characters, a Brazilian caballero called Paulista and his girlfriend Carmencita, were quickly established among the programme's most popular attractions. The pair were used to promote Paulista coffee, a brand vacuum-packed under pressure which was deliberately not linked to the Lavazza name. The object was to sell it to cafés and roasters beyond Lavazza's established clientele.

The Paulista brand was a personal success for Emilio Lavazza because it was a purely Brazilian blend, and he had moved to live in Brazil for some time in preparation for its launch. The caballero and Carmencita continued their love affair from 1964 until 1975.

There was an even longer-running popular campaign for Lavazza from the early 1970s until 1993, with the Italian actors Nino Manfredi and Nerina Montagnani (who played Natalina, Manfredi's supposed housekeeper). Their memorable slogan was: "Più lo mandi giù, più ti tira su" (roughly translated: "the more you take down, the more it perks you up").

Emilio Lavazza became the company's chief executive when his father died in 1971, heading the company's buying department and travelling the world's green-coffee-bean producing nations for a decade. As a buyer he always favoured Brazil, and he spoke Portuguese as well as French and English. He succeeded his uncle Pericle as company president in 1979.

He began the company's drive for international expansion in earnest in 1982, opening offices in France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, again initiating award-winning advertising campaigns featuring, among others, Luciano Pavarotti and the actress Monica Vitti. He kept the company at the forefront of technology, having introduced gravity-feed processing in 1957, computerised market controls in the 1960s, vacuum packing in 1961, and coffee capsules for single-shot brewing and other technical innovations in roasting and vending in later years.

He was equally energetic in driving Lavazza's relationships with Italy's historic coffee houses and cafés; with leading modern designers for iconic logos, coffee cups, pots and accessories; with cutting-edge photographers, such as Helmut Newton and Annie Leibovitz, for Lavazza's themed calendars; and with sports institutions for sponsorship, ranging from Formula 1 motor-racing to World Cup football.

One of the most imaginative and productive relationships was with the Catalan chef Ferran Adria, of the three Michelin-starred El Bulli restaurant, pioneer of "molecular gastronomy". Adria has worked with Lavazza's training centre and laboratories since 2001 to produce a variety of novel coffee products, including coffee "caviar".

Lavazza served as president of the European coffee roasters' association, of the European Coffee Federation and of the Associazione Italiana Industrie Prodotti Alimentari, and was honoured as Cavaliere del Lavoro by the Italian president in 1991.

He was, though, usually personally intent on maintaining a low profile. He gave very few interviews, and was always known about the factory and offices as "Signor Emilio". He was offered, but refused, the presidency of the Turin football team, but described himself as an "avid" golfer and a "philosophic" fisherman. He loved jazz, and enjoyed reading murder mysteries, of which he also wrote two. His collection of model soldiers was, he admitted, so big that his wife complained about it.

He retired as president of Lavazza in favour of a nephew only last year, when he took the title of honorary president. He died of a heart attack, and is survived by his wife, Maria Teresa, son, Joseph, and daughter, Francesca.

......... Robin Young

Emilio Lavazza, coffee magnate: born Turin, Italy 1932; married Maria Teresa (one son, one daughter); died Turin 16 February 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas