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By Hollis Ashman and Jacqueline Beckley, Consumer Understanding Editors | 08/23/2006
Convenience: Ready-to-drink coffees are available. Starbucks in a 1996 joint venture with Pepsico introduced Frappuccino and later DoubleShot espresso. Folgers responded with Jakada. Now Coca-Cola enters the fray with Blak. These are all shelved in the beverage aisle away from the coffee/tea area, thus giving consumers more opportunities to choose a coffee beverage and to consider them against other impulse beverages. Most retail coffee companies sell coffee “pods” to provide the coffee house experience at home.
Indulgence: The pleasure of coffee is still a strong factor. The varieties of premium coffee available (Frappuccino, latte, etc.) allow consumers to have a pleasurable experience. By reframing the premium pleasure experience to include giving to others, Starbucks allows consumers to indulge without feeling guilty.
Rwanda Blue Bourbon was the 10th coffee in Starbucks’ Black Apron Exclusives program, which was launched in April 2004 to bring rare coffees from around the world and to donate funds to the communities that grow them. Rwanda Blue Bourbon is available only as whole beans. The 8-oz. box is priced around $13.
Starbucks has had strong growth compared to other coffee brands, yet still must find ways to continue profitability and to increase consumption among consumers. A recent effort is Rwanda Blue Bourbon, a coffee that mixes typical Starbucks quality with rare beans plus a social conscience.
The idea of coffee with a social meaning had consumers in our taste panels interested. The back of the package speaks to the flavor of the coffee, the social orientation and the rare, exotic and cherished coffees included. The coffee is presented in a “gift box” that reflects exclusivity and premiumness.
Flavor (by aroma and mouth) and temperature are critical to the perception of coffee. The coffee has the distinctive bitter roasted note of Starbucks coffees. It is robust with a slightly acidic note and an herbal, spicy quality followed by a slight chocolate flavor.
At this price level, consumers must justify purchasing an expensive half-pound of coffee. The social good enabled many of our tasters to feel justified. The exquisite attention to detail reinforced the perception.
The Starbucks brand is about trust, experience and now making the world a better place “one coffee cup at a time.” Rwanda Blue Bourbon obviously is high quality and it helps define premiumness and exclusivity while at the same time giving to others. The whole brand is now reframed from a premium coffee experience to a brand that also does sustained good for others.
How to make the idea bigger: This is a new strategic space that companies are beginning to move to. It is risky since the return from the consumer is not necessarily guaranteed.
Starbucks as a leader in understanding consumer shifts beyond just trends appears to be right on the mark. It’s using goodwill to allow consumers to feel good about paying $26 a pound for coffee.
Rating: The product does deliver on the Starbucks promise and takes the experience to a new level.
Market potential: Huge! This is a ground-shifting change for the industry. It’s a model that will be copied by many. Starbucks has an entire system in place to make this work, however, so few of the copy-cat will succeed.
Hollis Ashman is chief strategist and Jacqueline Beckley is president of the Understanding & Insight Group, a strategy, business and product development firm that connects with consumers using qualitative and quantitative approaches. See www.theuandigroup.com.
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