Featured in this report:
01 - Overview
Our observations include some of the brands and categories shown above.
02 - Environment
The images above were taken at supermarkets in the New York metropolitan
area. Typically, the coffee aisle is divided into instant coffees, canned ground
coffees and premium or whole bean coffees (shown in branded shelving units
in the bottom right).
03 - Structure
Coffee is sold in a variety of structures depending on the type of coffee,
volume, and use. Value-priced and bulk coffees are typically sold in cans, tubs,
or bricks while bags are reserved for whole beans or specialty coffees seeking
that "corner roaster" image.
Structure, just like every aspect of design, should constantly evolve to meet
new usage patterns, shipping and selling concerns, brand strategy, even
changes in consumer lifestyle.
04 - Structure: Innovation
Nescafe, Harmony Bay, and Folgers have introduced plastic containers which
allows them to create comfortable handles, pop-up lids and unique shapes.
International Coffees has added a line of instant cappuccino blends sold in
individual pouches, but they continue to hold on to their signature rectanglular
metal tin, still a unique stand-out in the category.
Notably absent from the stores we visited were the increasingly popular coffee
"pods" (lower right). These little one-hit-wonders are by far the most dramatic
innovation in coffee-making. Rather than making an entire pot of coffee at
once, each pod makes a single, balanced cup of coffee. Perfect for the one-coffee-drinker family or the coffee fanatic rushing out the door in the morning.
05 - Where It Comes From
Like a fine wine, the character of a coffee is often determined by its place
of origin. Whether it's the mountains of Columbia, the rolling hills of New
England, exotic tropical highlands, or even the streets of New York, a unique
sense of place reinforces the experiential qualities of the product.
Projecting a generalized, macroscopic sense of place such as "Mountain
Grown" is common to big name brands seeking the widest audience.
Focusing on a more specific locale (real or imagined) may be more
appropriate for smaller mom-and-pop brands or those seeking a specialty
06 - The People Who Grow It
Many coffees feature an archetypal persona of the grower, cultivator, picker, or
roaster as a key component to their brand.
The human touch is the ingredient that makes this product much more than
a simple agricultural commodity. From seedling to sip, it has been cared for
by people, not the least of whom are the many people, rolled into one iconic
persona, who cultivate and nurture it along the way.
07 - The People Who Drink It
The presence of someone enjoying a cup of coffee is common across the
category. The are often depicted in a pre-sip state of contemplation where
aroma and taste converge - a moment here defined as the "sip-sniff."
Coffee is often revered as a rich, thought-provoking product. Depicting a
person in a state of enjoyment helps build a strong connection with the
powerful sensorial qualities of coffee.
08 - What It Feels Like
Almost everyone in the category makes an effort to convey the experiential
qualities of the product in some way. JavaNa tries to bring the bistro-esque
cafe experience to the grocery shelf, while others play up coffee's warming,
Starbucks has not only changed the way coffee is sold, they've changed the
way people think about it - from a simple commodity to a richly-engaging
experience, and ultimately a deeper aspect of one's daily lifestyle.
09 - Owning Color
Folgers dominates the red spectrum of mass market brands with several
others nearby. Chock Full o' Nuts owns yellow while other brands exist as
price-conscious options or use gold to communicate "premium." Maxwell
House owns blue along with other mass market and specialty brands.
There is opportunity to compete alongside Sanka, the lone entrant in the
orange spectrum, particularly since the product line is so narrow. Green is an
option, but care should be given considering the color largely stands for decaf
across the board. Violet, long known for its associations with royalty, is wide
open with only a couple smaller names or specialty products represented.
10 - Decaf Is Green
With the exception of Sanka, virtually every other brand in the category uses
the color green to indicate "decaf."
If one is considering green as a core part of their brand, they should only do
so for a very strong, specific purpose. Many Italian coffees, for example, use
green as part of their brand because of its presence in the Italian flag - an
indispensable ingredient in Italian equity. Likewise, a few specialty products
use green as an indication of the natural or organic aspects of the product.
11 - Darker Colors = Darker Roast
Almost without exception, the darker the color, the darker or richer the roast.
Folgers (top left) and Chock Full o' Nuts (top right) even provide a color key
on the package so customers can understand the roast level at a glance.
Espresso roasts, more common to European brands, range from rich deep
colors (Sclafani, middle right) to completely black (LavAzza, lower right).
Roast level is an important purchasing consideration. If executed well, color
value can help the customer quickly understand how light or dark the coffee is
compared to other varieties in the line.
12 - Product Photography
If it isn't a picture of beans, it's probably a picture of a cup of coffee, steam
rising, centered at the bottom of the package.
Providing some depiction of the product can go a long way toward improving
appetite appeal. Few of the big name canned coffees had any representation
of the product on the package, leaving the customer with no understanding of
the product conealed within.
When showing a cup of coffee, the choice of cup (a classical gold rimmed tea
cup versus a casual diner mug, for example) can provide subtle cues about
the positioning of the product.
13 - Illustration
Custom illustration is a common approach in the whole bean and specialty
coffees. New England Coffee (upper left) adopts a style similar to 19th century
New England folk art. JavaNa employs a whimsical French bistro style first
popularized by Starbucks. And Green Mountain Coffee (lower right) uses a
style similar to Post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin to evoke a sense of tropical
Illustration not only describes the product experience, it implies a sense of
craftsmanship. It lends a one-of-a-kind" aura to the product, prompting the
customer to care that much more about it.
14 - Endorsements
There are many different forms of endorsement across the category - from the
New York-ish "I Love Cafe Bustelo" to Maxwell House's infamous "Good
to the Last Drop" (lower right). Products which adhere to fair trade standards
such as Green Mountain Coffee (upper right) proudly display a stamp of
certification, while others rely on a simple gold ribbon for added confidence
about quality and taste.
The best endorsements are those that come from unbiased sources or, as is
the case with Maxwell House, offered up unsolicited by a former President of
the United States (Roosevelt).
15 - Premium vs. Value
Three ways of differentiating between premium and value brands are
structure, graphics, and personal appeal:
Structure: Premium coffees come in bags, just as they're
sold by the corner roaster. Value coffees sell in cans, bricks or other less delicate structures.
Graphics: Premium graphics tend to be richer and deeper,
with greater attention to detail and materials. Value graphics tend to be much
simpler and flatter.
Personal Appeal: Premium brands often provide a compelling reason why the customer should care more about them. Value brands often focus more on the facts than they do on any "greater" motivations.
There appears to be a significant gap between premium and value brands.
Maxwell House is now selling a midrange-premium blend in bags alongside
higher-priced coffees by Starbucks, Newman's Own, and others.
Look for that trend to continue and for other brands to fill the gap using a
combination of structure, graphics, and personal appeal to reach their target
market with a premium message.
whole bean coffee, ground coffee, specialty coffee, structure, color, green, innovation, persona, roast level, endorsements, photography, illustration, premium, value, Café Bustelo, Café Goya, Chock Full o’ Nuts, Eight O’Clock Coffee, Folgers, Green Mountain Coffee, Harmony Bay, Hills Bros., International Coffees, JavaNa, Maxwell House, Nescafé, New England Coffee, Newman’s Own, Sanka, Starbucks, Yuban