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Cup winners

16 May 2023
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A new generation of coffee cup connoisseurs (with a South Island connection) have taken the reins at Acme, the tiny but mighty Kiwi company that’s sold five million cups worldwide, with more than a million – and counting – currently in circulation in New Zealand homes and cafes. Interview Josie Steenhart

Whether you realised it or not, chances are that cup you had your morning flat white or afternoon earl grey in at your favourite local cafe came from Acme Cupco.

Founded by Jeff Kennedy and partner Bridget Dunn a decade back, when they realised the Italian cups they’d been importing could be improved upon for a local market (think a bigger finger hole and a rounder interior), the Wellington-based business recently shifted into the ownership of Megan Wyper and Jeff’s nephew Paddy Kennedy.

As well as clever, considered designs and a high-quality, durable product, Acme’s popularity can also be attributed to its ever-evolving selection of colours, which includes shades with names that nod to its local origins – such as Kawakawa, Feijoa, Rata and Weka (this cheeky hue came about via Paddy, a seasoned tramper, who alongside his daughters is often accompanied by weka while walking in the South Island).

The latest sought-after iteration is a stylish collaboration with fashion designer Karen Walker, featuring the classic Acme Bobby mug in variations of Peach, Sage and Moss.

We caught up with the duo on their return from a quick work trip to Christchurch.

Congrats on taking ownership of Acme, how did that come about?

Thank you! Jeff approached Paddy and myself about the idea over a year ago as he was wanting to focus on the coffee side of the business.

How long have you each worked there, and in what roles?

Paddy has been with the company since the beginning, we just celebrated 10 years of cups! And I’ve been with Acme for over five years now. As with most small businesses the roles are varied and aren’t normally limited to what’s written in your signature!

Until last year our team had pretty much been us and an extra person, so three people – so as you can imagine we had many roles!

However, my focus and role has always been marketing and sales manager and Paddy’s is logistics manager and product development lead – this is where our focuses remain while we plan out what the next few years look like. The company purchase is still pretty fresh!

What were you both doing prior?

We have both worked in hospitality with a focus on the specialty coffee industry. Together we have over 30 years’ experience in the hospitality industry. I’ve won awards as a barista and coffee roaster, managed and started cafe businesses for a company in Scotland, and Paddy has travelled throughout Europe making coffee and started a coffee roastery in Ibiza before coming back to New Zealand to work with Acme.

How do you each have your first coffee of the day (and in what cup?)

It really depends on the day! Paddy will make a pot of filter for the office – we generally use the classic Union mug, however if he’s in the mood he will make something espressobased for everyone – he has the best latte art in the office!

I normally have a flat white at home before work – we have the collective range at home. I’ll then have a second oat flat white in the office or filter if Paddy has made a pot.

The afternoon isn’t so structured, another filter pot might be made (or if there’s filter left over from the morning, a cup of cold filter is an easy option!) or we might split a double shot and have a wee piccolo in either a mini Taster or mini Roman cup.

How many cups have you sold in 10 years?

Five million, give or take.

How many cafes are you in worldwide?

Way too many to count on one hand! We manage the New Zealand and Europe markets so have a clearer idea as to how many we might be sold into – so maybe 10,000?! But as we work with distributors in the US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, South Korea, South Asia and the UK it’s a tricky one to get spot on!

What is the most popular cup model and colour?

The medium Espresso range cup, known as the Cappuccino cup, in the Whale colour – it’s most certainly the most popular cup around the world. Coming up second is the Bobby mug, and finally the Roman cup range in Kawakawa.

Any idea how many cafes/eateries you’re in in the South Island?

All the best ones!

Thoughts on/impressions of the South Island cafe culture?

It’s very community-focused, cafes are pumping and the servings are big! We visited this month and loved how all the cafes we ate at were really busy on a Wednesday morning and the portions are big. Oh, and they certainly know how to make an oat flat white – shout out to the barista at Unknown Chapter in Christchurch!

Paddy, you’re from Nelson, do you get back often?

Not as much as I’d like, but when I do I always like to get an oliebollen donut and a packet of bratwurst from the Nelson Market.

Any South Island cafe recommendations?

Way too many to list, it’s like being asked which is our favourite child! I (Megan) did a South Island campervan trip and I had a very memorable and tasty oat flat white from the cafe Mrs M’s in Timaru, my daughter was very pleased with her fluffy too! We do have a couple of South Island city guides on our Instagram.

How did the Karen Walker collab come about?

It happened like most great ideas – over a cup of coffee! A mutual party put us in touch with each other and after having a coffee together it really just took shape from there.

What have you got planned for the year ahead?

As we’re new to holding the reins we’re taking some time to plan how Acme will look over the coming years, but you can expect to see new products from us towards the end of the year and early 2024 – some very new things from us which we’re very excited to launch!

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