How retailers can bring the café experience home

07 May 2021, 08:51 AM
  • With shoppers longing for café-style coffee but staying at home, how can retailers satisfy demand?
How retailers can bring the café experience home

After over a year of challenges and uncertainty, we are starting to see light at the end of the lockdown tunnel. No doubt some lifestyle changes brought about by the pandemic will fade as swiftly as they arrived, but some trends – including the consumer demand for café quality coffee at home – could well be here to stay.

Cafés will always have their place in the fine food world, and Speciality Food readers with cafés and foodservice operations in their portfolio would be smart to make the most of their out-of-home offering, but there’s certainly no harm in boosting your retail coffee selection whether you offer a take-home hot drinks service or not.

Throughout the past year, UK shoppers have considered the luxury of great coffee in their chosen guise – cappuccino, filter or iced – one which they couldn’t live without. According to a Volcano Coffee Works panel, the average consumer has invested £50 of their hard earned money into recreating their favourite out-of-home drink order in the comfort of their own homes.

Milk frothers and coffee makers have seen an increase in sales, but it’s not only familiar coffee servings that have proven popular in the past 12 months. In line with foodies’ desire to explore new cuisines and scratch-cooking – in the absence of eat-in restaurants – coffee lovers have been taken in by new and exciting ways to enjoy their coffee; for example, Instagram-approved dalgona coffee: a photogenic foam-topped concoction which was a favourite of experimental Millenials in mid-2020.

Long-term trend

According to Mintel’s UK Coffee Market Report 2020, the pandemic’s transformation of coffee consumption from largely out-of-home to at-home isn’t going to stay at its current levels forever, but things may never go fully back to the way they were pre-Covid. Amy Price, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel, explains, “Covid-19 has provided the coffee market with a temporary boost, as the nationwide lockdown brought out-of-home coffee to the home overnight. As the lockdown continues to be eased, however, more coffee occasions are expected to shift back out of home, albeit to a lesser extent than previously.”

According to James Gray, co-founder and sales director of Barista & Co, the home café trend is one worth investing in even after lockdown is lifted. “We have seen a 300% increase in demand for a coffee and coffee making kit since the first lockdown, and although this is expected to slow down it is clear more people will be working from home in the future.”

Having the right equipment on shelves, so that customers are stocked up on everything they need to make a café worthy product at home, is important – as is spending the time, either through customer service or clear signage, making sure that shoppers are purchasing the correct coffee to go with the kit they’re buying. For example, an Italian-style stovetop coffee maker requires finely ground coffee, while a cafétiere needs it to be coarser to avoid grounds seeping through and resulting in a grainy cup of coffee.

According to James, 51% of customers choose the wrong coffee maker (source: 2020 Barista & Co survey of 381 customers), which offers “a great opportunity for retailers to match coffee with brewing kit and help their customers enjoy a much better product at home. Of course, it also often leads to repeat purchase as customers come back for the coffee they love.”

The shopper seeking to buy quality coffee from an independent retailer rather than a supermarket standard option during their weekly shop is likely to be open to trying new things, and may even have a requirement beyond the usual morning jolt. “Many of our regulars purchase more than one type of bean and at home, they enjoy a morning coffee, an afternoon brew and even a post-dinner bean with different flavour profiles for different times of the day,” says Candice Fonseca, proprietor of Delifonseca.

“We’ve found that over time, people’s interest in coffee has evolved. Just a few years ago it was all about the espresso shot and the pod systems that dominated the market, however we’ve noticed that tastes are moving on and nowadays there’s a greater recognition of the flavours delivered by single-origin coffees and the skills of the roasters.”

It’s not only the provenance and taste of the coffee shoppers buy that’s an important consideration these days. “Not only has there been an increased interest in regional varieties, but there’s now also a higher proportion of customers buying whole bean and grinding to order at home,” says Candice.

Tools of the trade

On the shop floor, Candice has found that there’s a desire to experiment with coffee making equipment; consumers are allowing themselves to spend a few minutes carefully brewing a coffee as opposed to quickly pouring boiling water over some instant coffee powder in the pre-commute rush. “Anecdotally, people have recently gone back to using filter coffee machines, cafétieres and percolators – even Chemex if they’re super on-trend!” she says.

When it comes to providing your customers with the tools needed to recreate a café-style coffee at home, it’s worth being genned up on the options and the different styles of coffee they produce. A cafétiere creates a very different style of coffee to a stovetop moka, so it’s important to provide your customers with options which will allow them to brew their own coffee just how they like it. “If your customer likes a heavy velvety coffee, go with a cafétiere. If they prefer something clean and lighter, try pour over,” James suggests.

If you’re new to stocking coffee making kit, James has some sage advice: “The key is to understand your customer and where the value proposition is that resonates with them,” he explains. “At Barista & Co we focus on coffee lovers and not coffee geeks. If you add in a complex and expensive piece of brewing kit it is very unlikely to sell, so start with the obvious or simple items like cafétieres or something like our One Brew or Brew It Stick.”

He also suggests positioning coffee and its related kit together in your displays for ease of understanding and potential upsell opportunities, as well as “opening a bag of coffee; the smell alone brings people in.”

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