Coffee Brands have come a long way in the past 20 years, and not necessarily for the better. There are many players in the coffee market that can be found dwelling on street corners and in shopping malls across the globe. Clearly Starbucks is the most dominant global player, but there are other large, regional brands such as Café Nero, Costa, Coffee Bean and Caribou Coffee Company, which are common household names to consumers in their region, and are recognized by these consumers as high street coffee houses. These brands have led a majority of consumers to believe that they provide the ideal coffee experience. For those who want a quick on-the-go coffee, this may be the case, however for those genuine and real coffee enthusiasts, these brands undermine the true essence of what coffee is. We were witnessing ‘the birth of an urban coffee war’, one which, in my opinion needs to come to an end, or at least be reinvented.
We only have to look back at our history to understand what coffee culture was all about and how the experience of drinking coffee was completely different to what is presented today, an aspect that needs to be revived in today’s high street coffee brands.
Contrary to popular belief, coffee was a drink set up for younger people and served as an ‘exotic beverage’ in nightclubs that stayed open after the pubs had shut, in fashionable department stores, and ‘continental’ cafés that amalgamated elements from all over Europe. The fad in the 50’s was sustained by coffee bars serving ‘frothy coffee’ set up for young people across the country who wanted their own spaces in which to dance and listen to their music away from the pubs used by their parents. Lyons Corner House Cafés was the ideal brand that provided this, however it’s a brand that few would even remember today. Lyons did it right, they understood the essence of coffee. They knew it was not just a beverage; it was an experience. It’s the coming together of people and communities, to create a sense of belonging.
Meals and snacks were priced to meet most pockets and as eating habits changed so did the methods of presentation. Lyons Corner Houses were quite ‘posh’ with bands playing live music, and what they called ‘Fullers Rooms’, which were quite an experience with dressed up waitresses and waiters. These coffee bars provided a great place where the young could socialize with each other as opposed to going and getting drunk in a pub, it certainly was a cheaper option as well! The coffee bar was a great sort of social revolution for its time.
Always innovative and with an ‘acute awareness of popular taste’, Lyons brought a unique blend of showmanship, style and spectacle to its aim of combining high quality with value for money, a branding strategy that was essential to it’s success. This was achieved by maintaining control of all its manufacturing and servicing departments, and managing the brand in a way that would give it a unique proposition compared to its competitors.
In my opinion this is what is lost in today’s high street coffee brands. There is nothing unique, special or even different. Their menus are the same, their interiors similar even their coffee machines! Take the coffee shop logos away and you wouldn’t be able to tell one brand from the next.
Where has the “inspiration and nurturing of the human spirit – one person, one cup at a time” gone that Starbucks so proudly boasts about? Where is that unique sense of belonging and attachment? Today’s young, educated and well-travelled consumers cannot be fooled anymore. They have realized how they have been trapped by their insecurities by these brands, and have been made to believe that it is a status symbol to stand in line and carry around a branded coffee cup in their hands. This isn’t enough anymore; they need another dimension for personal self-fulfillment. More so than ever, today’s young society needs to be able to express themselves and a have a sense of personal value and recognition in today’s economic and competitive climate that surrounds them.
Continue the way these high street coffee brands are going and in the next 5 years they will lose out to local specialty coffee shops that project strong values that match those of the consumer. The movement towards specialty coffee has been initiated by smaller roasters. While the bigger coffee brands have tried to follow their lead, the size of these smaller brands have helped to establish credibility and respect with the specialty coffee crowds—they are not seen as mass producers, and are viewed as having a closer relationship to the coffees they sell and consumers they are trying to sell to, and thus are able produce a more ‘flavorful’ coffee experience. The look and feel of these specialized coffee roasters gives them value and authenticity and a distinctive quality.
The lost coffee culture can be blamed on commercialization and a fast paced modern society and lifestyle. Over the years, coffee drinking seems to have moved further away from the social activity that it once was. While people still frequently visit coffee houses for leisure activities, it’s far more likely to see a large number of people working on laptops or reading, or doing some other form of productive work at coffee houses, rather than socializing and mingling with each other. We have in part become reclusive, which is quite ironic because the whole concept of a coffee shop was to bring people closer together. Other markets could take note from the French and Italian coffee markets which have been able to embrace the Starbuck’s-type coffee culture, whilst maintaining their café culture.
Coffee brands need to reassess themselves and go back to the original values of what it was to be a coffee house where making coffee was seen as a sacred art, not a one minute wonder.Social tagging: Branding > Business > consumers > social