Selecting the Right Coffee for Your Concept

By John Buckner — SVP, National Account Sales


Selecting the right coffee for your concept is vital. It used to be that consumers in the away-from-home market first decided where they wanted to buy their breakfast food, then, they would accept whatever coffee was being served. While is often still the case, consumers are increasingly choosing where they want to drink their coffee first (Technomic Annual Breakfast Study, 2015). Coffee is going from playing second fiddle to the primary driver of traffic in the morning. Operators know this, and we at S&D are actively upgrading numerous coffee programs to strengthen the magnetizing power of coffee even more.

Now, stepping back further, let’s first acknowledge that before the morning coffee habit is formed there was an initial decision by the consumer — they have to select your venue in order to obtain your coffee. The decision for where to buy coffee is based on convenience, price and quality (Datassential, 2015). Convenience is really a structural factor and one that you may not have that much power over. But, price, well, that’s a variable that has a direct relationship to quality — factor number three. So, we have to deal with price, but I’ll come back to it later.

Staying with the consumer, there are several basic choices that they have to make. They boil down to:

  • With caffeine or decaffeinated
  • Roast (light, medium, dark)
  • Size (small, medium, large) at corresponding prices
  • Condiments (sweetener, whitener, flavor)

What we know about the coffee habit is that these choices remain relatively stable over time so the consumer doesn’t have to rethink about them every morning. And, you can stop here. Identify a serviceable, moderately roasted blend at a good economic value. Throw it at 2.5 ounces (throw weight is a ratio of coffee to water). Put a regular and a decaf on the menu. Maybe add a variety of condiments. And, you are in business. Not bad, but this is kind of a pedestrian effort.

True coffee destinations (where consumer choose where they want to drink their coffee first; the decision for food is secondary), transcend these basic mechanical factors. They know that coffee can be a high involvement, emotional decision. There are a set of “emotional” choices that may or may not always be conscious to the consumer, but we are learning that they really matter, especially as operators aspire to achieve higher margins and maximum loyalty. These more emotional factors include the following:

  • Origin – specific countries or distinct coffee growing regions vs. blends
  • Sustainability – programs that signal to the consumer that the way the coffee was cultivated and treated was responsible toward the environment and the people involved

In recent studies by Datassential, we learned that these factors now represent over 30 percent of the buying decision (when subjected to a six-factor tradeoff analysis), overcoming even the dominate factor of price. We knew that the millennial generation more than any other is greatly concerned about where their food and beverages come from. But, we were astonished about their power in a true-to-life purchase simulation.

So, origin and sustainability aren’t “extras” any more reserved just for independent coffee houses. They are becoming mainstream. Consider origin and sustainability as the catalysts to catapult your place to the status of a coffee destination.

And, one more point— as I said we would return to price. Choose a higher quality coffee that cups above an 80 on the SCAA scale and throw it at 3 ounces or 3.25 ounces. For pennies, you can rocket boost the taste in your cup to a quality unmatched by others in the consideration set. And, you can charge dimes more.

Follow my simple formula. Transcend the basics and go for a high involvement, emotional coffee experience. You will reap the profits and loyalty that you deserve.

Looking for the right coffee for your concept? S&D’s Specialty Coffee Collection gives restaurateurs the power to choose a premium coffee offering that delivers both exceptional flavor for customers and unmatched value for your bottom line.