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Features Coffee Service
Coffee Trends: Fall 2016

Factoring in millennials


September 1, 2016
By Brian Martell


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Why would you tweet something to the person sitting at the desk right next to you? If you have to ask this question, you are probably not a Millennial. Millennials (also known as Gen Y-ers) are people born in the 1980s and 1990s.

This demographic has overtaken Gen X-ers as the dominant workforce group and will continue to have a tremendous impact on the office environment for years to come. According to CNBC, Millennials are “entitled, lazy, narcissistic and addicted to social media”, but one may also add: creative, inclusive and mission focused. The clash of cultures between Gen X-ers and Millennials happening in the offices of North American companies is creating a shift in how all suppliers to these offices behave, but perhaps none so profoundly as the OCS provider. Millennials have co-opted coffee as their beverage of choice (although tea is also high on the list), but as with the differences between their generation and those preceding them, it isn’t the same coffee.

Those of us born before 1980 who enjoy the daily ritual of a good cup of coffee perceive “good” to be qualitative on taste. We have preferences for the way the coffee was roasted, how we prepare it, the aroma, the point and, above all, our preferred flavour. Millennials look for these qualities too, but their connection to the coffee is not just how it tastes, it is also about how it feels. They are living in a time in which they see the majority of their life ahead of them and are concerned about what that will look like when they get to middle age. The constant media diet of climate change and uncertainty (Millennials are connected on way more frequencies than any generation before) leaves a perception that our species is heading full throttle into an apocalyptic abyss. No wonder the “spirit of the times” resonating with Millennials is sustainability. It is the emotional denominator uniting the various subgroups of Millennials and a powerful product feature if sincere and substantial. So what does that mean to the beleaguered OCS provider who is trying to please a workforce in generational transition? If we are looking at keeping our businesses economically sustainable to at least the next decade, then the shift to sustainable products and services in the general sense of the term is essential.

There is a problem with this strategy, however; sustainable means many things to many people. Millennials have a feather touch on information resources and yet the concept of sustainability ranges from it being Organic to Fair Trade to Rainforest Alliance to “fill in the blank.” Feeling good about what you are drinking can either be interpreted as purely altruistic or enhancing your personal brand; either way it will need to be substantiated if it is to be adopted. Therefore the claims made by companies marketing to this demographic need to not only educate but also be backed up with hard data if they are to be believed. Greenwashing (the practice of appearing without actually being environmentally friendly) will be the kiss of death as posts, tweets and snapchats of transgressors spread not only throughout the office, but also across the globe in a matter of seconds. For this reason, bona fide certifying organizations that have auditable sustainable practices are the easiest ways for companies to get on board.

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In past columns, the importance of the “S” in OCS has been underlined. Holistically, the idea of sustainability can also mean the type and quality of service brought to this new demographic. From a product standpoint, the coffee and its packaging are the relatively easy changes that can be made to appeal to the Millennials; but what about the OCS provider itself? “Ironic” would be the first word on social media when Fair-Trade-Organic-Bird-Friendly products are delivered in a 10-tonne diesel truck. And while there could be an argument made that less carbon is generated per pound of product delivered in said truck as compared to a Prius, the customer’s emotional biofeedback may feel otherwise. Looking at ways to actually improve your company’s resource consumption and then effectively communicating what you are doing through social media is the key that will unlock the hearts and minds of those who are becoming the deciding factor of tomorrow’s business.


Brian Martell works at Heritage Coffee as vice-president of sales and has 21 years of industry experience. Brian has also been the recipient of three prestigious awards: the Don Storey, Stuart Daw, and the Albert DeNovelus Customer Service awards. Questions, comments, feedback, start a dialogue? Email him at brian@heritage-coffee.com.


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