Marketing Specialty Coffee -Roasting Coffee Well will not make you sell (on its own)

a batch of roasted coffee

…or better said simply roasting well is not enough.

Today I am planning to write about something that occupies my mind for quite a while. 

Potentially it might be interesting to those responsible for marketing in coffee roasteries, or anyone who is planning to open their own business in the specialty coffee segment. And for curious minds who are keen to see how specialty coffee works from the inside, and how it has been changing.  

I will start with a phrase I’ve been told, with a phrase I find myself disagreeing with. 

“People will buy our coffee because it is well roasted. The only thing we need to be successful is a good enough product roasted well. When people try it, they will be coming back because it is so good”.

You probably will ask me why I disagree with it, even if it is obvious that the client is coming back if the product satisfies her.

I wanted to say that roasting well is the only thing that you need – if you are in the beginning of the 2000s, and you are operating in a specialty coffee segment with a goal to take a piece of cake from the big companies that are roasting robustas and low quality arabicas, and roasting them dark. But even back then it was not enough. Although you were getting some attention simply because you were doing things differently. You still had to communicate who you are to your segment. 

People were not buying your coffee because it is simply good. People were buying it because your product was answering their needs, and they identified with it. In the ways they found important. 

Just like today. Only today you have plenty of competition. Roasters who roast as good as you. Or close enough.

Now, in almost 2022, it is reckless to behave like these 20 years have not happened. You have competition, you have certain standards and expectations from the customers, you have new brewing methods, different consumption habits, an abundance of offers online… It would be madness to still be basing your “key difference” at the specialty coffee market as “We source the best coffees and roast them to perfection, showcasing the best flavours the terroir is giving us”.

Many things are wrong with the previous statement – I will not get into details – but the most important thing is that it is not leading anywhere. It is not helping your customer to identify who you are, what kind of offer you have – and if you are, or not, close to what he is looking for. 

A “good roast” right now is a part of the standard package, it is a must, it is expected, even though different people understand it differently.

For the sake of everyone here, I will just consider the roast well performed if you can taste the key quality of the beans, origin/variety/processing traits. It will be a good enough roast. Some prefer it lighter, some – darker, but as long as you can taste the beans behind it, it is good enough.

I feel an urge to define it because if I don’t we risk starting a conversation about “what is a good roast for you?”, which is a completely different topic, and is hugely about personal preferences. For me, for example, the roasts that are hard to extract (underdeveloped), have no sweetness, are sour instead of acidic and have a very short aftertaste – are badly roasted. I feel like if the roaster decided to play a joke on me, in order for me to be trying to brew the beans, and get nothing, looking for the recipe till the bag is gone. No joy, only struggle. But there are fans of this style. 

Returning back to the topic. 

Right now we are in the situation when everyone roasts reasonably well. Everyone. Roasts. Well. Before getting your hands on the machine, the knowledge, good quality beans was hard. Now you can get a small roaster and start your micro-roastery, you have plenty of roasting courses, books, and most importantly – you can roast small batches and learn fast. And many do that.

The result? Lots of well roasted coffee. Lots of specialty roasters.

Great, right??? 

It is awesome!  Me as a consumer, I can be trying many different roasters, and in 90% of the cases get a reasonably good brew.

What else does it change? 

Everything.

Why? Because now I need some really good reasons to be coming back to the same roaster again and again, with all the choice that I have of the reasonably good roasts – why should I be buying from the same one?

Add e-commerce, how easy it is to order the beans from different countries, growing competition, inflation going up in the following years, prices for coffee going up – and you can get a feel that the rules of the game of specialty coffee changed. 

Who ‘s gonna win? 

Who understands his customer best. 

Who knows who they are, how they shop, what they are looking for, what’s important for them, how they choose – and how to make the whole process easier. How to adapt and change. 

  • webpage – easy to use
  • delivery – fast, fuss-free, beautifully designed and functional packaging is a +/or a must, depends on your vision
  • communication with the brand
  • clear marketing communications – if you get wonderful coffees, but are unable to promote them to your customer – what’s the point?
  • values – easy to read from the communications of the brand – people relate to them
  • human connection – people want to connect with people
  • design – of the webpage, brand, communications, packaging
  • well, price, yes, and a well thought out loyalty program

The paradox is “If your coffee is good and well roasted, but your customers don’t have the information about it, understand or value it – what should you improve? The roast or the communication?”

“If your coffee is well roasted, but nobody knows about you?”

“If your coffee is well roasted, but people are not coming back for the second bag?”

Those are the most important questions to answer.

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