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Electric Future Sparks Coffee Binge for Refiners in East Europe

  • Central European oil companies bolster retail, car-sharing
  • Refiners look past fuel as electric vehicles gain ground
A 'latte art' fern pattern sits on the surface of a cup of coffee

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

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Jiri Havlicek and his wife, perched at a picnic table on Prague’s riverbank, arranged a wooden chessboard and settled in for a game with creamy lattes in stylish stemmed glasses, a picture-perfect getaway from Europe’s midsummer heatwave. At a fuel station.

The retired couple’s outing across the Czech capital to their favorite spot is symbolic of a push into new businesses by refiners in the region, which have sprawling retail networks but lack the financial muscle to compete with industry giants. Hungary’s Mol Nyrt., which runs the mini mart the Havliceks go to regularly, has spent $145 million to upgrade a third of its 2,000 locations in 10 countries. It’s also trying to win over customers with food courts and other businesses from bottling water to operating buses.