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Coffee Trends: Spring 2012

When trends collide


May 11, 2012
By Brian Martell

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Micro economists and marketers will tell you that trends have a life
cycle. The neo period is punctuated with sporadic pockets of acceptance,
commonly referred to as the pioneering stage.

Micro economists and marketers will tell you that trends have a life cycle. The neo period is punctuated with sporadic pockets of acceptance, commonly referred to as the pioneering stage. As the trend gains broader acceptance amongst a population (local, regional or global), it moves into its growth phase, marked by broader media visibility. A plateau comes next, until the trend ultimately experiences a decline. Trends can be short-lived or have the staying power of Methuselah. Short-lived trends tend to be called fads (like pet rocks), while those that are long in the tooth may erroneously be revered as institutional.

This industry has witnessed several trends come and stay, while others have left. In the early years of OCS, the only solution to providing hot coffee to offices was in a glass bowl. Now we see this as archaic (there are still quite a few of them out there, but their numbers are nowhere near what they used to be). In the mid ’90s we saw the advent of sweetened powdered cappuccino mixes and bets were made as to how long they would last. No one has collected on those bets – French vanilla lives on. Bottled or filtered water is still a strong player in our market, but more importantly, the bottled water trend has transcended our industry, becoming incredibly popular with the consuming public at large.

Single-cup cartridge coffee has been a major phenomenon in the OCS industry over the last 10 to 15 years. What is surprising about this trend is that industry oracles who were presented with the concept back in the early ’90s thought it was a great system, but figured no one would pay that much money for a cup of coffee in the OCS environment. A typical serving cost for a cup of coffee with a pour over and thermal server was about 10 cents black; how could you convince an office manager to pay four times as much – or more – for the same thing? What had not been counted on was the perception of a better cup with the cartridges through two key factors: freshness and selection. Office managers, frazzled by having to run umpteen trials to quickly find a coffee everyone likes, saw the cartridge system as a panacea. The cost of the system was far less than the cost to their nerves of listening to complaints about the coffee.

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Another trend that has been gaining momentum in the broader global context has been that of environmental concerns. Controversy has made the environment a hot potato divided upon political lines and has had much ink spilled literally in print media and metaphorically on the Internet.

Currently, the trend of being more environmentally conscious has gone from the academic (for example, global warming and the advent of a new field of study called climatology) and industrial (MOE, EPA, et al.) to the everyday practical. Twenty years ago, a blue box was a box that was blue, period. Now it is synonymous with recycling and is present in almost every North American city’s infrastructure. More and more people are composting at home or have a municipal service that will do it on an industrial level. Consumers are more in tune with buying “green.” Businesses are looking to reduce their environmental footprint and are doing so on many levels.

You may already see where this is article is going. On one side, we see a trend that promotes greater perceived quality in the products we sell through one cup at a time cartridge style coffee. On the other is a trend of the perceived threatened existence of the environment that sustains the lives of all humanity. The clash is and remains that almost all cartridge coffees are exponentially more polluting than traditional batch brew or bean-to-cup options. Manufacturers of the cartridge systems have been under increasing pressure to reconcile the two trends. Keurig has introduced Vue as a more environmentally friendly cartridge; Flavia has a recuperation program to incinerate or recycle its cartridges, and KGF is still working on ways to make the Tassimo discs more environmentally kind to Mother Earth. Of all the cartridge systems, the one that has been around the longest but has still to find its broad-based groove is pods. Spent pods are not only biodegradable, but also make ideal compost material for weekend gardeners or commercial composters. That said, the lion’s share of the single-serve cartridge coffee business is decidedly with Keurig, and if it can effectively produce a perceived solution to the enormous waste produced by their system, it may well stay on top of the market.

Consumers have adopted cartridge coffee in a big way. They have reacted in one of four ways: they have reconciled the environmental impact of these systems through rationalization, they have not thought about it at all, they are riddled with guilt or they are resigned to a que-sera-sera attitude. The system that comes up with an effective and perceived way of converging these two trends harmoniously will find itself either remaining on top of the market, or supplanting the incumbent.


Questions or comments? Visit Brian at www.heritage-coffee.com.


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