In the last couple of decades, supermarkets have changed. Where once large companies ruled, in recent years they’ve come under greater pressure from smaller, artisanal brands, which have increasingly appeared on shelves.
As part of this change, many supermarkets have started adding specialty coffee brands to their line of products. Jars of instant coffee and robusta-arabica blends are slowly being replaced by higher quality products sourced from small scale roasteries, as consumers increasingly search for quality over price. This has given specialty coffee roasters the opportunity to boost sales and expand their market reach considerably.
However, not only is it difficult to strike deals with supermarkets, once achieved, roasters need to take a number of measures to ensure quality and brand identity is sustained.
To find out how specialty roasters can sell their coffee in supermarkets, I spoke with 2018 Finland Cup Tasting Champion and Head of Production at The Gentlemen Baristas, Roosa Jalonen.
Gap In The Market: The Rise Of Supermarket Specialty Coffee
Supermarkets have sold coffee in various shapes and sizes for decades. According to The Atlantic, the supermarket is consistently where around two-thirds of all coffee is sold in the United States.
However, despite this dominance, the majority of the coffees sold in supermarkets has historically been lower quality, commodity-grade instant and robusta-arabica blends, rather than specialty. The reason is that production of commodity-grade coffee tends to be focused on speed and cost rather than quality, which are traits that suit the expectations of supermarket shoppers about price and availability.
Although this might make the idea of selling specialty coffee to a supermarket seem counterintuitive, the changing demands of coffee consumers have started to cause a shift in the type of coffee supermarkets look for. The consumption of specialty coffee is growing at 13% per year in the UK alone, while 45% of consumers claim they would pay more for coffee that benefits the people who grow it.
Trends towards a higher culinary appreciation for coffee and its origin means that coffee drinkers are focusing more on factors such as flavour, aroma, and sustainability than they are on price. As a result, supermarkets have started catering to these demands by incorporating increasing numbers of specialty coffee brands into their line of products.
This gap in the market presents an excellent opportunity for specialty coffee roasters to boost brand recognition and expand their reach. According to recent research, the average consumer spends around 53 hours a year in supermarkets and grocery stores, with total sales in the US at more than $630 billion annually. By selling their products in supermarkets, roasters can tap into this market and lead a growing selection of specialty coffee offerings.
Roosa Lyydia Jalonen is a certified arabica Q grader and Head of Production for The Gentlemen Baristas in London. In 2018, she became Finland Cup Tasting Champion and finished as a quarter finalist in the World Cup Tasting Championship in the same year.
She tells me that selling coffee in a supermarket is a great way for specialty roasters to gain exposure.
“It can help you gain a much larger reach among consumers and attract more people to try higher quality coffee, which ultimately helps the specialty market,” she says. “In my opinion, it’s much easier to attract consumers who are new to specialty coffee.”
How To Approach Supermarkets & Grocery Stores With Your Coffee
While the idea of selling your coffee in a supermarket may be attractive, there are a number of steps that need to be taken before your product can start appearing on shelves.
First, it’s important to decide whether you will be selling your product under your own brand name or as a “white label” good. White label goods are products made by an independent company and sold under the supermarket’s label, such as Tesco Finest.
While both are viable options, The Entrepreneur Handbook states that white label goods are likely to generate a higher volume of sales with lower profit margins for the roasters. This is because supermarket and grocery store own-brand products tend retail at significantly lower prices compared to branded products.
Once you have decided on how your coffee will be branded (including whether you will sell ground or whole bean), you need to put together a compelling pitch.
Buyers for supermarket products typically review dozens of items every day, so roasters need to make sure they put forward a convincing argument for why their coffee should be stocked. Factors such as the coffee’s origin, unique flavour notes, and processing method are all big selling points for supermarkets that want to target specialty coffee consumers. Fundamentally, supermarkets want to maximise the chances of their customers forming emotional connections with the brands they sell; marketing products with a convincing story will help them achieve this.
Roosa says that as well as “selling” the brand, roasters also need to offer research that demonstrates there’s a market for their product.
“It is important to have some data to prove you have a good history of selling your own product, but also prove that there’s demand for it,” Roosa explains. “Many supermarkets require certifications about the production of the coffee, and it helps if you have these to hand before approaching them.”
As more consumers are becoming aware of environmental issues, fully recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable packaging can also be key selling points for supermarkets looking to invest in more sustainable products.
In terms of making initial contact, Bellwether Coffee maintains that persistence is key, whether making time for regular calls and emails or sending samples of the coffee for buyers to try. The best way of securing a deal is to meet with the buyers in person and pitch your idea to the relevant people. Do some research on the supermarket or grocery store and find out whom to speak to before reaching out as this will save time.
What To Consider Before Approaching A Supermarket Or Grocery Store
Many specialty coffee roasters have managed to establish relationships with supermarkets and been highly successful as a result. But before you approach a supermarket with your own coffee, there are a few important points to consider.
Roosa explains that supermarkets are not suited to all specialty roasters and that it’s important to assess all outcomes before approaching one. For instance, they may demand certain quotas that require you to expand operations or promote your product at a discounted price, which could disrupt your business model.
“Carry out some research into the logistics and consumer base of the supermarket to figure out if this is the right avenue to sell your coffee,” Roosa says. “Specialty coffee is often produced by small, artisanal roasteries, where all production is done by hand by a small group of employees. I think some consumers think that the coffee may lose its artisanal attraction if it’s sold in supermarkets and on a larger scale.”
She also explains that specialty roasters may not be able to assert the same end level of product control in a supermarket that they would in their roastery or café. “You have also potentially less control over the product and its freshness,” she says. “Coffee beans lose most of their freshness around four weeks after roasting.”
Most larger-scale supermarkets would not be able to continually replace coffee after four weeks of shelf placement, possibly leading to consumers receiving a lower quality product than in a café.
“It is important to extend the shelf life of your coffees as much as possible when selling coffee to supermarkets. This can be achieved by flushing the bags with nitrogen gas, both for beans and ground. I would always recommend selling beans as this can extend the coffee’s shelf life,” Roosa says.
“Instead of marking only your roast date on the bag, it might be good to also mark the best before date. This is a more common way of letting consumers know about the freshness of the product,” she adds.
If you plan to sell your coffee in supermarkets and grocery stores, it’s essential you choose packaging that stands out. On the average supermarket visit, customers are exposed to more than 40,000 different brands, which means your product could get lost if it doesn’t attract attention.
At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of fully customisable coffee packaging options, from kraft paper stand-up pouches to PLA flat bottom pouches, that will help your coffee brand stand out on the shelf. Launching your product with a supermarket is an exciting experience and we can support you by ensuring your product is sustainable, preserves the coffee, and communicates your brand identity.
For more information on our plant-based packaging, contact our team here.
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