My main job at Heritage Coffee is coffee buyer and cupper. I taste an awful lot of different coffees within the buying process, and countless others in working with our head of R&D in coffee blend matching. For this reason, the amount of caffeine I get on a daily basis is quite high, even before counting the amount of cups I drink purely for pleasure.
Many years ago, while tasting a line of decaf offerings, I realized that the quality of decaf coffees, and in particular methylene chloride processed, (sometimes referred to as "European Processed") decaf had really improved to the point that it actually was no longer such an obviously inferior cup to regular coffee. 100% Colombian decaf actually tastes better than many blends in the mid to low end of the caffeinated category.
When people stop by and I offer them a coffee, I will whip them up a cup of Colombian decaf just to gauge their reaction to it when unaware of what they are consuming. The reaction is unanimously favorable to the coffee, with commentary running the gamut of accolades from smooth to delicious. Once informed of what they are drinking they will sheepishly chide me for having gotten one over on them; I will proceed to claim innocence of malice but wanted to introduce them to a coffee they would likely never consider trying, let alone ask for, had they known it was going to be decaf.
When ordering a decaf with peers and friends, eyebrows are usually raised and I always get at least one person in the group who states something along the lines of, "decaf, why even bother?"
Just as it is obvious that when one orders a diet soda because they want a particular soda taste without the calories, or a nonalcoholic beer because they want to enjoy a beer without the alcohol, it should be obvious I want to enjoy a coffee without adding further to the amount of caffeine I have consumed on that particular day.
This "why bother?" reaction seems exclusive to decaf coffee, and raises concern in my mind about the general public's perception of coffee in general. If people feel that coffee is only a mood-altering mechanism, and not its own reward, then despite all of our best efforts over the past 25 years in improving coffee blends, marketing specialty/gourmet and origin beans and increasing the strength of the brew from the tea-water coffee had become in the 1980s, we still have much work to do.
Energy drink marketers are continuously pounding to gain a share of the "wake me up" market. Coffee is often posited as the lesser alternative in these efforts.
Coffee, in my opinion, is the obvious better choice first thing in the morning, and I doubt there will ever be anything more pleasant than that first morning cup. I'll even concede to having the thought "why bother?" enter my mind when it comes to brewing decaf for that first cup. Unfortunately, it is the effort to gain those afternoon and evening consumers, not only by energy drink makers, but also water and soda manufacturers, that we need to address in maintaining and even growing our share of the liquids consumed by North Americans on a daily basis.
What would the value be to your bottom line if every consumer of your coffee products were to have just one extra cup per day? If we assume the average drinker has two cups on a daily basis, and further assume that one of those was enjoyed before getting into the office, the potential exists to actually double your coffee sales! OK, so half of the folks in your accounts don't drink any coffee, and the ones who do range from 1 to 8 cups per day -- meaning that to increase coffee consumption by one cup per customer per day would produce an overall increase in the neighborhood of 25%. That is still heroic, to say the least!
This brings us back to the decaf discussion. I guarantee that most coffee drinkers have not tried a cup of decaf in years, if ever. I'm willing to bet the same could be said of some folks actually reading this article. Go ahead and brew up your best decaf this afternoon and see what you think. If you agree it isn't the horrible drink it once was, you may want to start offering clients a free cup of decaf on visits -- to heck with the potential of increased sales; you may want to leave behind a whole lot of cups for free, with an offer for 50% off the first purchase to any accounts not presently buying decaf.
Offer your account reps a nice bonus for getting decaf sold where no decaf has been sold before!
Raising same-account sales is more profitable than sales derived from new account placements, as overhead in handling current accounts is already being covered. Exposing your customers to the pleasures of today's best decafs might be one simple way to do so.
KEVIN DAW is president of Heritage Coffee Co. (London, ON, Canada), a leading private-label roaster serving the breaktime management industries in North America. He is in charge of coffee buying for Heritage. A 30-year veteran of the workplace service business, Daw has served as a commission coffee service salesman, a principal of a vending operation and president of a bottled water company. Since 1990, he has concentrated on coffee roasting. Active in industry affairs, Daw is a Specialty Coffee Association of America Certified Brewing Technician, a member of the National Beverage and Products Association Hall of Fame, a recipient of the National Automatic Merchandising Association Supplier of the Year Award and a NAMA Coffee Service Committee member.