Consider the humble coffee bean. Grown in mountainous regions around the globe, by hundreds of thousands of farmers and their families. Millions of pounds each year.
So what differentiates coffee?
It is where and how it is grown, milled and graded. It is how it is roasted and packaged. And then how it is prepared and presented. These combined steps make a difference. When coffee is attended to with care, discipline, and creativity the final experience is distinctive and memorable. You can “taste the place”, embrace the quality and enjoy the service … all in the cup.
Experiences are a distinct economic offering, as different from “services” as services are from “products”. Experiences have always been at the heart of entertainment, exemplified by Disney theme parks. For every guest (not “customer”), Walt Disney World cast members (not “employees”) stage a complete production and create a memorable experience.
True Specialty Coffee is an experience. From coffee lands and their accompanying stories. To the roasting process and its vintage history. To the correctly and carefully built espresso beverage or brewed cup.
What distinguishes an experience from a service or product?
* products are tangible, services intangible. But experiences are memorable
* products are inventoried, services delivered on demand, while experiences unfold
* products are standardized, services customized, while experiences are inherently personal
These distinctions explain why experiences have the power to create new and greater economic value, and why some coffee businesses do much better than others.
Providing a true experience is about engaging the customer and connecting in a personal and memorable way.
The softening of the economy has created a fork in the road for restaurants, cafes and drive-thru’s. They are asking themselves – do I take the path of quality at a value and retain my business, positioning myself for the future, or do I “cut and run” sacrificing quality, going with price and hoping I survive. Those are the two paths at the fork in the road.
Interestingly, the consumer is not seeing the same fork in the road. Our deduction, evident through sales, is that Specialty Coffee, at its very best, is a great value, therefore the choice it is not an issue. The informed consumer is seeking, purchasing and enjoying high quality coffee at a reasonable price despite a recessionary environment.
When I see so called “fine dining” and supposedly “high quality casual dining” establishments buying low quality, low price coffee, it makes no sense. They are terribly out of touch with the consumer.
People are still eating out, just maybe not as often. But when they do it has to be spot-on. And if they finish with a lousy cup of coffee, these days there is minimal forgiveness for preaching quality, yet brazenly having bought on price, which sadly many establishments have done.
The businesses who are committed to quality, and take that path when the road forks, are being rewarded with loyalty. And customer loyalty is priceless.
The current economic conditions are defining for the coffee business. In recent years (known unofficially as the “good times”!) there was a wide gray area for coffee categorization. The designations of Specialty, Gourmet, and combinations of the two, were banded around without any real meaning. We even had “super-specialty” at one time.
This has been followed by roaster-created designations such as farm-direct, farm-friendly, eco-friendly and many others. While some are genuine, many are false and frivolous designed to mislead the customer into believing the roaster is buying direct while visiting the farm and shaking the farmer’s hand. Not so.
The reality is customers are knowledgeable, informed and discriminating with their evaluations. With money a little tighter, the customer is activating their discretion.
In the “good times” a customer would try out a new place, resulting in the purchase of an espresso beverage. If it was sub-standard, no big deal. Pitch the beverage and seek a replacement from a proven retailer. No longer.
The differences between Specialty (we will keep this one) and Commodity coffee are clear. Basic Commodity coffee has always been presented in a can. In the gray area there is what can be called “pseudo-specialty”. It is Commodity coffee masquerading as specialty, usually in a bag as opposed to a can. It is amazing these roasters think the consumer is that gullible.
In tighter economic conditions, pseudo-specialty should be called what it is – Commodity coffee. This is coffee purchased on price NOT quality, even if the “marketing messages” tout otherwise. This is bad karma and they are heaping it upon themselves. Quick side-note – when farm families have to sell worthy, quality coffee at a commodity price, they do not eat, nor come close to having access to any form of medical care.
Customers are making their choices. They know Specialty (it is the taste – consistent high quality) and they know Commodity (it is the taste – raspy, low quality). And they know good companies – Coffee Roasters who operate within a set of values and standards, who value the human component of coffee farming and whom are involved in their communities.
Trust the Customer – they know their coffee. Convey your position of quality, service and community and your regulars will continue to support you…and new customers will find you.
Yes! The last several months have confirmed that quality still matters. While customers may be careful and diligent in their buying decisions, their actions speak of wanting value. Cravens Coffee thanks each of you for the opportunity to prove the value of our fine coffees every day. Let us work for you. (509) 747-6424 or firstname.lastname@example.org