Why the Story Behind Your Coffee Matters

By Helen Griffith

Why the Story Behind Your Coffee Matters

Who doesn’t love a good story? Since we were young, our favorite stories have been full of detailed descriptions and vivid visuals. Believe it or not, that same type of storytelling can drive your coffee business. Many consumers want to know the story behind their coffee. How the farmers are treated and whether the coffee was grown in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way can influence purchase intent and even choice of venue.

From roasters, farmers and researchers to baristas, government leaders and impact investors, coffee enthusiasts from around the world gathered to discuss all things coffee at the Let’s Talk Coffee® Conference on September 20–23 in Cartagena, Colombia. For the last 15 years, Let’s Talk Coffee® has been a premier gathering at origin for global stakeholders from throughout the entire coffee value chain.

During the conference, I presented an in-depth look at what consumers think about when it comes to purchasing sustainable coffee. The presentation explored types of consumers—personas and generations—as well as what matters most to them when it comes to the story behind their coffee.

Why the Story Behind Your Coffee Matters

S&D research reveals the consumer personas that care most about the coffee they drink—the Quality Essentialist and the Frequent Sophisticate. These two groups of coffee drinkers are not only willing to pay more, but they’re also willing to go out of their way for a better-quality cup of coffee with a good story behind it which, it turns out, can also elevate the overall perception of the establishment where it’s sold. These consumers feel good about their purchase because they believe it helps support the farmers and the community where the coffee is sourced.

Similarly, millennials and Gen Z care about the story behind the products they purchase. They are more socially conscious than the generations before them and seek out products that are good for them and the planet. If a company aligns with their values and beliefs, they will support the company with their wallet, their social media presence and word of mouth. In other words, if a venue or brand offers sustainable products—and more importantly, communicates about those products—the venue will experience a halo effect from the consumer’s experience.

With 86% of millennials willing to pay more for a cup of sustainably produced coffee and 46% thinking more positively about a venue that offers sustainable coffee1, operators need to consider the significant benefits and long-term potential of serving an authentic story with their sustainable coffee offerings.

When communicating the story behind your sustainable coffee offerings, simplicity is critical.
A clear, concise message can go a long way. Take TOMS Shoes, for example. The simple, easy-to-remember message and mission of “Buy One, Give One” immediately resonated with consumers and created worldwide recognition for the brand.

Why the Story Behind Your Coffee Matters

Choosing impactful claims and engaging visuals creates a better story. The most meaningful terms relate to responsible sourcing—messages around better, sustainable farming practices resonate strongly with consumers. There is a common affinity for stories that include the terms “environmentally friendly,” “better farming practices” and “treating workers fairly.” Clean, bright visuals can help further a story’s message, especially when they can connect consumers with the farmers and families that benefit from their coffee purchase.

The bottom line is that consumers are looking for a better beverage experience. They are seeking out sustainably sourced coffee, with an authentic story behind it. Knowing that coffee “with a story” has the ability to drive sales as well as traffic into your establishment, you should take the time to review your menu and marketing and adjust as needed. If you don’t, the competition will.


1. Datassential, proprietary study for S&D Coffee and Tea