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Craft coffee is everywhere! The new John Molson S | Pro Club Bd

Pierre Yann Dolbec

Image: Pierre-Yann Dolbec: “Craftsmen believe that products or services should be a highly aesthetic experience.”
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Photo credit: Concordia University

A time traveler from the early 1990s would be amazed at the coffee market of 2022. What is latte art? Or grind evenness? Or single-variety beans? And who cares anyway?

This time traveler would find that many people are passionate about caring and caring. Just as markets for once-everyday products such as beer, fritters, chocolate or meat have diversified and specialized to appeal to more discerning consumers, so has the coffee market.

Connoisseurs often discuss defining aspects of third-wave coffee such as tasting notes, regional characteristics, and roasting techniques. Coffee consumption has skyrocketed over the past few decades, due in part to the growth of the craft coffee community, and major commercial players are taking notice.

This is the subject of an article published in the Marketing Magazine by Pierre-Yann Dolbec, Associate Professor of Marketing at the John Molson School of Business, and his co-authors Zeynep Arsel, also Associate Professor of Marketing at John Molson, and Assistant Professor of Marketing Aya Aboelenien at HEC Montreal. In it, they argue that artisan businesses that believe in the perfection of the aesthetic coffee experience have transformed the way coffee is bought, sold and consumed.

“Craftsmen believe that a product or service should be a highly aesthetic experience,” says Dolbec. With coffee, for example, the aesthetic experience – the acidic notes of the brew, the latte art, the aroma – is valued by craft coffee producers and consumers alike.

This is in contrast to retail companies, which primarily seek to maximize profits and whose products are designed to appeal to mass markets. However, the study finds that retail companies are increasingly responding to the rise of craft workshops by drawing inspiration from their highly aestheticized products and services.

Specialization versus mass market

But their paper, based on research spanning thousands of pages of archival data and in-depth interviews with roasters, farmers and coffee professionals on three continents, goes beyond the mere dichotomy between craft and commerce. Both blocks, the researchers note, can be broken down further.

“These firms, whether artisanal or commercial, can have narrow or broad appeal – what we call specialists or generalists,” explains Dolbec. Each has their own target customer base and approach to advance their respective markets. This can be new products such as coffee pads or special devices such as a bean grinder that promises a high degree of uniformity.

And the barriers between groups, he notes, are not rigid. They borrow freely from each other. Starbucks’ famous Pumpkin Spice Latte, for example, has been adapted countless times by artisans with the introduction of curated spices; commercial companies have developed fully automatic espresso machines that make espresso brewing easier; Specialists have taken the much-maligned cold-brew coffee and made it more palatable to connoisseurs by emphasizing acidity.

The researchers conclude that companies can and should continue to learn and adapt from other types of companies.

“All types of companies are working to compete against each other,” says Dolbec. “They adapt innovations from companies of the same type, they transform innovations from companies that follow a different logic and, over time, lead to the craft logic becoming more present on the market. Just as Tim Horton talks about homemade espresso drinks, you will see artisan shops selling their own types of coffee pods.”

Read the cited paper: A practical perspective on market development: How craft and commercial coffee companies are expanding their practices and developing markets.


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