Most European consumers still purchase mainstream coffee, but speciality coffee is a growing segment

The majority of European consumers still purchase cheaper mainstream coffee, usually in the form of standard blends. Recent research suggests that most European consumers still do not distinguish between low- and high-quality coffees. This indicates that there is a lack of consumer awareness and information regarding speciality coffee.

At the same time, industry insights suggest that a growing number of European consumers is prepared to pay higher prices for high-quality coffees (with high cupping scores between 80 and 100) which have a special story. The increasing interest in speciality coffee is reflected in the growing number of coffee shops, small roasters, small local brands and baristas. There is no exact definition of speciality coffee, so it is difficult to provide exact market figures.

Within the market for speciality coffee, three developments stand out.

  • Signature blends: These are carefully selected coffees from various origins which cater for unique taste palettes. They appeal to specific consumer tastes, and communicate balance and quality. Examples include various blends of Coffee Masters (the United Kingdom) and Borgman Borgman (the Netherlands).
  • Single origin: The origins of coffee are receiving increasing attention from the industry and consumers. Single origin is associated to high-quality and unique coffees from a certain region or country. At Starbucks, the world’s largest coffee chain, single-origin coffees have also started to gain ground. Examples of single origins are Jamaican Blue MountainHawaii KonaTop Kenya AA and Guatemalan Antigua.
  • Micro lots: The speciality coffee market has also led to an increase in micro lots. These higher-quality coffee beans are sold separately, in quantities of up to 50-75 bags, for a higher price. Micro lots allow for a more direct trade between producers and smaller buyers such as specialised traders and smaller-scale roasters. This development opens up an interesting opportunity for top-quality and value-added coffees.

Tips for Vietnamese coffee exporters to respond to this trend:

  • Provide the correct documentation. Buyers might expect evidence of the grading process and the final cupping score of your coffee. Fragrance, aftertaste, balance, sweetness and uniformity are important topics in this grading process. The exact minimum scores differ per country and buyer; for instance, the speciality cupping score may range between 80 and 100. However, some buyers might consider 80 too low and demand a cupping score of 85 or higher.
  • Investigate opportunities in high-quality micro lots. Refer to the Cup of Excellence platform to find more information on micro lots and to connect with other industry players and potential buyers.
  • Develop and articulate your unique selling points as a supplier of speciality coffee. Think about what sets you apart from your competitors, and create your marketing story around this aspect. For example, your story can entail the origin of your coffee, the agro-climatic characteristics of the producing region, the culture of the producing communities, the unique quality of your product such as your cupping score, or a combination of these aspects.