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Beyond the bean: why branding is key for roasters

The UK is home to over 300 coffee roasters, each competing for a share of retail and wholesale markets. For many, growth is the ultimate aim: a quest for more customers, an upgrade in machinery to make processes quicker and more efficient, more beans roasted each day. But how can an increase in business be achieved in a crowded market?

The answer is to get yourself noticed and to stay one step ahead: in a word, to differentiate. Doing so is a two-step process: it’s about getting the basics right first, then branding, branding, branding your way to success.

Refining your product

A strong product is the backbone of growth for any roaster. There are a number of ways roasters can refine their product, create demand, establish themselves and make their stamp on a crowded market.

1. By offering a superior blend

Investigate what your competition are up to. Are they all offering the same thing? Are they focusing on affordable, commoditised single origins or blends, and going for quantity over quality? Sometimes, offering a superior blend can involve risk, but sometimes it pays off. Take a look at Black Sheep Coffee, who supply only premium robusta, a bold move in a market where such negative connotations towards Robusta are present.

2. By offering an economical roast

Who is your target market – third wave coffee shops which are always after something new and different, or mass market coffee shops who both buy and sell in bulk? An economical choice may make it easier to tempt the latter away from your competition.

3. By offering exclusive access to a certain coffee

Exclusivity works in the coffee industry – as long as both the product and price are right. Are there any coffee farmers with whom you can collaborate to offer something exclusive to your customers? Such a deal will give you credibility amongst your target market.

4. By supplying a specific area

If you’re in an area with a shortage of local roasters, you’ve got a great basis on which to grow. Hosting cupping events, offering samples and letting people know that you’re there is key – you’re giving them the chance to save on delivery costs, and to be reassured that you’re nearby should they need to restock urgently.

5. By offering consistent quality

It goes without saying that consistency is key to success: if your customers know that every single roast they purchase from you is top notch, they’re likely to come back time and time again.

The importance of brand

While these preliminary stages are important in terms of defining your business for your target market, they’ll only get you so far. In truth, it’s pretty tough to differentiate yourself using only the five steps above: the key to true differentiation – and therefore being a strong competitor in a local or national market – is branding.

The quality of your coffee is obviously important, but strong branding can ensure that you stand out, give you instant recognition amongst your target market, and show your customers that you’re a serious business.

For a masterclass in successful coffee branding, meet Copenhagen’s Coffee Collective. They realised that consumers want to see the coffee they’re buying before making a purchase, but didn’t want to risk damaging the beans by packing them in clear bags. Finding a practical solution could provide a clear point of differentiation for the brand. In 2011, the Collective launched clear-bottomed coffee bags, allowing customers to see the beans inside without risking light damage. The packaging design suggests intelligence, commitment and care – exactly the brand values which wholesale and home buyers seek from their roaster.

No matter how you source your beans, or how dedicated you are to your art, your brand is what will catch the eye of most customers first. A strong brand name and image will make your target market want to find out more: generic branding that resembles your competition won’t. Toronto’s Pig Iron Coffee Roasters’ website promises passion for coffee (words like collaboration, quality and craft abound), but it’s their memorable branding that sets them apart. Their name and design are based on a vintage cast iron roaster, giving them a brand identity that screams unique.

Standing out from the crowd

If you’re a small coffee roaster looking to grow, you need to differentiate yourself from the competition. While refining the basics can undoubtedly help, creating a strong brand image is key.

If you’re a small roaster looking to grow, check out our other support blogs, including five things every roaster should know about coffee trading, and building a balanced espresso blend.