Millions of people across the world start their days in the exact same way – with a piping hot cup of coffee. Described time and time again as one of life’s great pleasures, an essential part of life, an unrivalled afternoon pick-me-up coffee is without comparison.
So, this is why, as we all continue moving at an unrelenting pace on the treadmill of life, café+co is looking for ways to supply people with an antidote, an opportunity to step away and hit pause – the perfect break from it all.
“Our slogan, to create the perfect break, is our constant mission,” explains Fritz Kaltenegger, CEO of café+co. “It’s what drives us and prompts us to keep delivering an exceptional service, so that more people can experience that perfect break that café+co can provide.”
When Fritz came on board as CEO in 2017, he brought with him a diverse skill set and knowledge base, thanks to his wide-ranging professional trajectory.
After starting his career in 1996 as a Project Manager at NPOs Ecosocial Forum Austria and the Austrian Biomass Association, he made the move into politics, acting as the Head of Cabinet of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management from 2002–2005.
Fritz went on to be appointed Managing Director of the Austrian Farmers’ Association in 2005 and, in 2009, became the Secretary General of the Austrian People’s Party. In 2011, Fritz headed Business Development of AGRANA Fruit with projects in Austria, Belgium, Serbia and Indonesia, and, in 2015, he acted as Managing Director of a printing company group based near Vienna.
So when the opportunity to transition into the coffee industry as the CEO of café+co arose in 2017, Fritz felt that it would be a perfect fit. From day one on the job, he identified ways to revitalise and grow the business, and ensure it was at the forefront of innovation and development.
“When I came on board, I strived to improve the level of service and product innovation,” he says. “Innovation is key because consumers’ needs and wants are constantly changing, and it’s essential to keep up. In the three years that I’ve been with café+co, I’ve executed growth strategies, established digital payment options and formulated additional business models.”
It’s not surprising then that the company is a leading provider of coffee solutions in 10 countries across Central and Eastern Europe, boasting the newest machines, high-end payment solutions, advanced products and unmatched service.
It employs more than 2,000 staff, and with team-building exercises that work to cultivate a robust company culture, Fritz explains the business is now even stronger. “Of course, there have been challenges,” he says.
Innovation is key because consumers’ needs and wants are constantly changing, and it’s essential to keep up.
“It is difficult to find and then to encourage skilled and motivated staff, so we’ve looked at ways of guaranteeing a high level of employee engagement. We run numerous programs to strengthen employer branding and improve the leadership skills of our management team. Professionalism guarantees satisfaction, so we ensure that our employees always remember that.”
However, Fritz is quick to concede that this rise to the top of the industry has not been without its obstacles, especially given the unstable conditions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our business is inextricably linked to the general economic climate,” he admits. “And with the current situation across the world, it’s inevitable that there is poor growth in many industries at the moment.
“However, out of crises come new opportunities. Digitalisation has been an important trigger for innovation. And sustainability will be more and more important in the next few years. That’s why we’re working towards removing plastics from our offerings, promoting healthy products and reducing our overall energy consumption.”
Now, looking to the future of café+co, Fritz explains that over the next 12–18 months, the business plans to continue its progression and bring its services to other parts of Europe. “We’ll be focusing on expanding our business model in Austria and the Czech Republic,” he says.
“There’s also scope for substantial growth in Poland and promising acquisition opportunities in Serbia as well.” From those early days in politics to his time spent working in the agriculture industry, and now heading one of Europe’s premier coffee and beverage companies, Fritz maintains that his varied experience has ultimately served to make him a stronger leader.
“I’m ambitious and goal-driven,” he says. “But I’m also a huge believer in open communication, commitment and allocating clear responsibilities. I’ve found that the best way to attract and retain talent is by listening to their ideas and striving to challenge them every day.
“It’s good to remember that decisions are incredibly important. Even ‘no’ is a good decision, because you can learn from the result. What’s crucial is to keep your eyes open and stay curious.”