OPINION: How businesses in the coffee industry can capitalise on the growth of the socially-conscious consumer

The coffee industry must listen to their socially-conscious consumers – whose voice is growing ever louder, writes Andrew Knight, founder of Andronicas Coffee.

The so-called ‘latte-levy’ has been causing a stir again, with commentators speculating that it could result in 11,000 job losses if brought into force. Cue mass hysteria and angry head shaking from coffee bosses up and down the land. 

The charge – suggested earlier this year by the Environmental Audit Committee – is aimed at improving the environment by encouraging people to bring their own cups to coffee shops, but it has ruffled many feathers in the industry, with some predicting a drop in sales as a result.

In recent years we have seen a sharp rise in the socially-conscious consumer; arguably kick-started by the introduction of a 5p charge in plastic bags back in 2015 and the ever-increasing popularity of programmes such as Blue Planet.

Coffee drinkers in particular tend to be a socially aware bunch. Fairtrade coffee has steadily grown in popularity over the years, and UK consumers are increasingly turning towards independent coffee shops over chains. They have made their opinions clear: doing the right thing matters to them.

As a country we are becoming more aware of the impact our behaviour has on the wider environment, and that is no bad thing. While many may relate to such conscientiousness on a personal level, there is a balance to be struck between supporting ‘doing the right thing’ and surviving as a business.

The truth is, in order for any business to survive, it must be realistic about the changing landscape and adapt where necessary. Public opinion changes with the wind, and refusing to budge on a certain issue can have a more detrimental effect on your bottom line than the issue you’re objecting to.

More and more brands are developing an identifiable tone of voice and are becoming braver at rallying against the things they don’t believe in – take the recent Lush #SpyCops campaign, for example – and that is commendable. The thing that will result in loyalty, however, is the ability to tap into the mindset of your customers and stand with them.

While having a corporate identity is important, the old proverb that the ‘customer is always right’ remains true. If your customers are telling you that they want something, who are you to refuse them? Choosing to dig your heels in will only result in them taking their custom elsewhere.

The coffee industry must listen to their socially-conscious consumers – whose voice is growing ever louder – and adapt to meet their desire to drink coffee with a clear conscience. One way to do so is to capitalise on it, stocking your own environmentally friendly alternative to a paper cup, for example, or talking to coffee experts like Andronicas about how to keep your customers coming back for more.

Andrew Knight is founder of Andronicas Coffee, London’s premium coffee roaster. For more information visit www.andronicas.com

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