The Speciality Coffee Association of America has released a study which appears to show that while American customers are willing to pay a premium for coffee which ‘tastes better’, familiar trade terms like ‘speciality coffee’ mean little or nothing to the consumer.
The SCAA’s report ‘The Speciality Coffee Consumer’ is intended to be ‘an insight into the behaviours and motivations behind purchasing decisions’ – or, in the more basic words of the researchers, to find who the ‘speciality coffee consumer’ is, what is their perception of ‘speciality’, and what motivates them to buy the coffee they do.
The project was based on six two-hour focus group meetings in Los Angeles and Portland. The researchers prepared ten pages of conditions which were used to ‘screen’ those who participated in the programme.
A brief summary of the general findings is that while American consumers are aware that there is coffee which is ‘better’, and that they will pay more for it, most consumers don’t know what goes into making some coffee better, or why – just that they like it when they get it. The concept of ‘speciality’ means very little to them. Some considered ‘speciality’ to mean espresso-based, and some thought it meant an added flavouring.
Even those who consider themselves enthusiastic about good coffee, say the researchers, turned out to be ‘not terribly knowledgeable’ about what constitutes ‘quality’. While some respondents seemed knowledgeable and spoke confidently about coffee, much of what they said turned out to be inaccurate. For all that it appears that coffee enthusiasts follow coffee blogs and websites… in the main, they do not. Indeed, in one part of the exercise, the researchers found that consumers ‘recoiled’ from too much information, and certainly from having it pressed upon them.
There is, conclude the researchers, certainly an opportunity to help the consumer define what they understand as ‘better’ coffee.
For one sector of this project, the researchers had predicted that consumers would not be able to express themselves coherently in words, and so had allowed for the opportunity of self-expression by means of collages, in which respondents were allowed to create scrapbook-type stuck-together images in an attempt to communicate what coffee means to them. The resulting report devotes seventeen pages to illustrations of the resulting collages… the results are either entertaining or disturbing, depending upon your analysis of them.
In a parallel exercise, the researchers undertook a round-table debate with American baristas, whose opinions quite noticeably supported the concept of helping consumers gently to experience and enjoy better coffee. One of the first things apparent from the baristas, say the researchers, was their view that consumers ‘must be met where they are’, and that baristas ‘must rein in the snobby, geeky, elitist’ attitudes.
The baristas confirmed that consumers are confused about the industry’s terminology, and that there are very few common points of reference between the trade and the consumer.
Not surprisingly, there was some bitterness on the part of baristas about not being seen as food and drink professionals. The researchers compared this to two related opinions from consumers, who said that they were turned off by anything which smacked of fast-food service, of staff uniforms, and by baristas who appeared to work from pre-prepared scripts by their employers. By contrast, said consumers, they were highly engaged by knowledgeable staff and the concept of ‘artisanship’.
“This,” report the researchers, “points to an opportunity to actively elevate baristas as professionals, to build the customer experience.”
Meanwhile, there have been more contributions to the bizarre kinds of research from which the coffee industry suffers.
In America, the Dunkin’ Donuts chain commissioned research to find out what kind of workers need coffee most to help them through their day. The findings showed that those who need it most are… people who work in foodservice.
In the UK, research by Nespresso told us that coffee has a ‘higher social status than tea’ among consumers – ‘high achievers’ drink more coffee than tea, and so do high earners, and senior managers choose coffee as the drink to be served in important meetings.
Rather more interestingly, however, Nespresso also discovered that over half of respondents in top management roles bring in their own coffee from home, because ‘office coffee’ is not considered good enough. Or, as Nespresso would prefer to put it: ‘this shows how important quality coffee is to high-achieving decision-makers’.
The SCAA study is available for purchase at: http://bit.ly/Specialty-Coffee-Consumer-Report-2012