The Rise of Speciality Coffee at Scale

Now in its eighth year, the 2016 UK Coffee Leader Summit welcomed senior executives from across the UK and beyond to The Langham Hotel for a day of thought leadership, networking and industry insight.

The day began with a data-driven breakfast briefing from Anya Marco, Allegra’s Director of Research & Insight, who introduced Allegra World Coffee Portal’s CoffeeTrack™, the definitive consumer panel dedicated to the coffee shop market. CoffeeTrack™ is the most detailed and comprehensive coffee shop visitor tracking study to date, tracking consumer behaviour, perceptions and trends. CoffeeTrack™ surveys 2,000 consumers each month to provide the UK’s most accurate and insightful continuous dataset on coffee shop trends.

The briefing was followed by a series of one-to-one fast networking sessions, giving senior buyers and industry suppliers the chance to connect and establish new relationships.

The thriving UK coffee industry

The afternoon was devoted to the official Summit conference, which examined the topic ‘The Rise of Speciality Coffee at Scale’. The Summit analysed the growth of the coffee industry, including how coffee shops can improve the customer experience, taking into account how coffee quality, economic factors and technology are affecting coffee shop expansion and consumer consumption habits.

Jeffrey Young, CEO and Founder of The Allegra Group spoke about the current trends in the UK Coffee Market, sharing data from Project Café2016 UK. He revealed that the coffee industry is thriving; people are spending more time in coffee shops and as a result, the average consumer spend is increasing. Branded chains continue to improve their offering as they respond to artisan trends and consumer demand for high-quality coffee. Jeffrey also spoke about the importance of a health and wellness strategy, incorporating the rise of speciality tea and food innovation, especially when targeting the new consumer generations: the Millennials and Generation Z.

The day’s keynote speaker was Luke Johnson, Co-Founder and Partner, Risk Capital Partners. Luke shared his views on the evolution of the coffee business, explaining that even though small businesses are better at adapting and maintaining their vitality, they are often overlooked by investors. He claimed that consumers are starting to reject big brands in favour of convenient local stores with an identity, something that is reflected by the coffee revolution. Luke warned that independent coffee shops should be careful with expansion as they risk failing to satisfy demand and sustain a profit. He advised that all businesses must strike a balance between shareholders, staff, consumers and founders if they are to survive, especially as the urge to develop means that dreams are modified to accommodate practical concerns.

Compass Group Marketing Directors Louise Pilkington and Nicola Morris were next to speak, discussing how to deliver higher quality across an estate. They explained that you can have the best brand proposition in the world, but without the right people, you cannot deliver it. People no longer eat their lunch in the canteen; they are busy and expect flexibility and food-to-go. They both agreed that flexibility, along with consumer insight, is what makes the difference in a quality experience. Marketers should always consider consumer insight, but must also be aware that their clients may actually want something else and it is here that flexibility is essential.

Personalising the Coffee Experience

As the coffee industry evolves, technology is fast becoming essential, something Kester Dobson, Head of Technology at Harris + Hoole was keen to share. Consumers now want a personalised experience, expecting baristas to know their name and their order when they come in. Kester explained how technology can actually improve the customer experience, saving time and money whilst increasing consumer loyalty. Mobile app data can show coffee shops who their most loyal customers are and what they usually order. He advised coffee shops that customers still need an incentive to choose one coffee shop over another and that any loyalty scheme needs to be simple, reliable and functional if it is to be successful.

His sentiments were echoed by Nick Rudd from Aimia, who spoke of the importance of data-driven marketing, loyalty and analytics. He described the current era as one in which the customer, not the brand, is in control. Digital is key to personalisation and companies now have the means to enhance the experience for their customers. However, Nick revealed that only 8% of customers believe that they receive a better deal after sharing data with a company. Brands need to use collated data to build and improve relationships with their customers, looking at what customers want to do and how they expect to be rewarded.

Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood from Colonna & Small’s also spoke about technology, discussing what makes a coffee good or bad and questioning whether technology can improve coffee quality. He claimed that capsules can taste as good as freshly brewed coffee and if the speciality coffee audience can understand this, the opportunities are endless. He believed that coffee capsules could change consumer opinion about speciality coffee as they use the optimal strength of approx. 5%, as opposed to an espresso which can be 8-10%. He argued that capsules could actually be a premium way of delivering some of the world’s most expensive coffees to an appreciative audience.


Defining Speciality Coffee

To round up the day, key industry influencers joined up to debate current issues and trends including how to define speciality coffee. The panel was comprised of Elaine Higginson (UCC Coffee UK & Ireland), Jeremy Torz (Union Hand-Roasted), Nick Tolley (Taylor Street Baristas), Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood (Colonna & Small’s), Simon Lewthwaite (Caravan Coffee Roasters) and Kristian Katin (Small Batch Coffee).

With an initial question of ‘What is specialty coffee?’ the panel was in agreement that customers still do not understand speciality coffee, with most people finding latte art more exciting than a traditionally brewed coffee. Although more customers are becoming interested in speciality coffee, they just want a coffee that tastes good and are not interested in where their coffee comes from. Jeremy Torz considered the man vs machine debate, asking which was the most important for a good cup of coffee.

The panel also touched on fair trade versus direct trade and the current popularity of coffee capsules. While the panel disagreed slightly on customer opinion of speciality coffee, they all believed that there is a shift towards quality coffee and that the market is continuing to grow.

The UK Coffee Leader Summit was proudly sponsored by UCC Coffee, BRITA Professional, Dart - Solo and Tate & Lyle.
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