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Malaysia’s largest coffee chain expands to Manila; aims for 150 stores by the end of the year



Malaysia's largest coffee chain expands to Manila;  aims for 150 stores by the end of the year

VENON TIAN, Chief Operations Officer of ZUS Coffee, looks like he has no time for jokes. After founding ZUS Coffee in 2019, they managed to open 420 stores – all while being interrupted by the 2020 lockdowns, mind you. At the end of the year, he told BusinessWorld during the opening of another branch in SM Makati that they are targeting 700 stores in Malaysia. There are now twelve stores in the Philippines since the company’s arrival just five months ago. By the end of 2024, they plan to reach a total of 150 in the Philippines.

By his count, they have 420 stores in their native country, making them the largest coffee chain there. The world’s largest coffee chain, US-based Starbucks, undoubtedly has a smaller footprint, with its own website listing ‘over 320 stores’ (although Mr Tian gave us a count of 380).

Their first overseas expansion takes place in the Philippines. When asked why, he said: “As far as Southeast Asia itself is concerned, Thailand has very strong competitors; Indonesia has (ten) a very strong fast coffee culture. Singapore – there are just too many brands.”

“[Its a] nice country to go to,” he said of the Philippines. “You’re very well known in terms of Starbucks, Tim Hortons (a Canadian chain) and all that. Then why not introduce what we have?

“I think the Philippines is much more mature [as a coffee market],” he added.

ZUS does have physical stores, but is assisted in its activities via an app. Customers have complete control over their coffee experience, from taste to temperature and ordering time. Reordering their favorite drink is easy with one click, providing valuable insights for creating new flavors tailored to their preferences. ZUS Coffee specializes in locally inspired specialty coffees, including Filipino favorites like hot and iced Spanish Latte and Gula Melaka, in addition to an array of Buttercreme Lattes, Frappes and more.

It is the power of the app to which Mr Tian attributes its rapid expansion, despite opening just before the pandemic. “We have always been digitally ready from day 1,” he says. Thinking back to the lockdowns: “Everyone ordered everything online overnight.”

As for their beans, Mr Tian says they source 100% Arabica from different countries such as Guatemala, Kenya and Papua New Guinea depending on the coffee bean season to ensure the best quality. ZUS Coffee strives to only purchase Direct Trade beans. Any form of green bean sourcing is done directly from the bean farmers, ensuring quality, sustainability and fairer prices that are then translated into the final cup that customers pay for. Direct trade helps farmers develop for a more sustainable future and growth. Although it is a moral choice, Mr Tian said: “That helps us make good quality coffee.”

“You have to like your own product so that people like your product,” he said. Another sustainable measure they have taken is the use of rice straws. This comes from Mr Tian’s own experiences as a diver who has seen underwater plastic pollution.

“At the end of the day, we are running a business. It also helps us sleep better,” he said of their sustainable choices. “To help myself sleep better, I want to make sure that everything we use is actually sustainable.”

The ZUS app is available on Google Play and the App Store. You can also order via GrabFood and foodpanda. –Joseph L. Garcia