Saturday, September 02, 2006

is the tipping point in sight?

"competition in caffeinated drinks is about to heat up, with coca-cola co.'s planned launch of premium brewed tea and coffee, a move the company plans to announce formally next week in toronto.

the world's biggest drink company, which gets most of its revenue from carbonated beverages, has had sluggish sales in developed markets as consumers shifted from sugary sodas..."

when at then-scaa-chief ted lingle's request i first started this whole consumer member evangelist and coffee meetup gig, u.s.a. coffee consumption had been down for decades. the specialty coffee folks often blamed this decline on soft drink marketing.

"there's no way we can compete with coke," they'd say sadly. but this article today tells us that we in the specialty coffee family have turned this battle around.

the soft drink company par excellence is now going to be marketing for us, not against us.

after spending some time looking at consumption statistics and demographic trends -- information in the public press and also that from scaa, scae, and aasca -- it was clear to me that actually specialty coffee was gathering force.

ted, who rarely receives due credit for his quiet but profound vision, saw early that a diffuse community on the internet would help hold the key to a specialty groundswell. it would include the standard marketing efforts of big specialty chains like the mermaid, peets, and caribou (it's important to remember that these firms are scaa pro members); as well consumer review and chat sites, and finally blogs.

long-time readers will recall i used to moan about how many blogs had coffee or java in their title, but weren't actually about our beloved fine beverage. of course that's completely changed, as coffee-related blogs, photo blogs, and podcasts have exploded.

a very few of them have been inspired by us here at bccy; many have been started by baristi, homeroasters, roaster/retailers, roastmasters, farmers, etc. etc. some have even been founded by people who dislike me intensely!

others have been founded by "cause coffee" adherents: fair-trade people, rainforest people, etc. who have never even heard of bccy, as well as by newbies who just seemed to have "caught" coffee from the air. these may soon be coming up to the majority. . .which is a sign of our success as well, that the "virus" is afoot and freakin' on its own.

ted's movement is now fully underway -- the entire framework he sought to develop is now falling into place -- and coke is now on our side.

of course coke has been in the coffee business for years in india and japan, selling canned products made from solubles (instant) and the like. the distinction is the "premium" mode: specialty.

as i've said before, everyone who's been offering online coffee content -- all those searching for better coffee, which means specialty coffee -- has played an important part in our effort. you're all members of our family.

one of ted's contentions was that not only would we need grass-roots countermarketing to coke, but we would also need to work on raising quality relentlessly. which is what he's now doing over at cqi.

no one wants to drink bad coffee. indeed, ted always blamed the decline in consumption on the poor quality of the commercial coffee available to most people more than on coke's advertising prowess.

i know this sounds like a lot to credit to one person; but ted labored at this for 20-odd years, as starbucks and others grew, as all these other trends took root. even those in peripheral contact with ted and scaa have taken that energy and run with it.

so now we have this loosely-knit specialty coffee family, a global movement in which entire nations (the formerly tea-drinking u.k. being that latest example) and the planet's largest corporations (coke!) participate.

we have to remember that u.s.a. coffee consumption is also moving up finally, an increase that will soon gather even more speed considering current demographics. coffee consumption is also gathering numbers in some coffee-producing countries.

devoted readers already know about the situation in korea, taiwan. . .

of course savvy readers are going to say, "hey there probably ain't enough real specialty coffee being grown now to satisfy the demand of coke!" and that could well be true.

if coke is really dedicated to premium quality, it could spark more high-quality coffee agriculture; that is, current farmers will improve their practices. we have to see whether coke will be true to its market, or whether it will immediately try to cut corners and lower its product quality.

if coke keeps quality high, it could succeed. if it doesn't, it will fail.

as ted lingle noted long ago, and repeated many times since, consumers can't be fooled for long. they will reject a low-quality product.

but again, this isn't a story really about coke. they're just following what they define as a market trend.

how did this market trend develop? how did it move? and this is where we 'net coffee lovers and pros come into our perhaps small, but real and influential, own.

thanks to you all. let's keep up the good work by renewing our commitment and passion for specialty coffee!

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posted by fortune | 9:54 AM | top | link to this | email this: | links to this post | | 0 comments

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