Walking out of the Washington Convention Center as the 2015 Specialty Coffee Association of America show ended marked a personal milestone. I had just attended my 25th consecutive SCAA trade show and conference. Twenty-five… wow.
Over the years, I have attended the show in every possible capacity – retailer, manufacturer, supplier, speaker, exhibitor, and even just as a spectator. I’ve been privileged to watch the organization grow and change alongside the coffee universe. When I first began attending in 1990, the show was packed with local coffee shops and regional chains, and that coffee-behemoth, Starbucks, was just beginning to expand. Back then, no one had a clue how revolutionary that was going to be.
Starbucks become the conqueror through a unique strategy: they selected new locations based on where they could acquire an existing local store as opposed to establishing a wholly new shop. This reduced market competition and eventually allowed them to leapfrog their larger rivals to become the dominant player in the industry. But a funny thing happened on the way to the top—Starbucks got better. Recognizing their acquisitions offered something more than location, the company adopted the best menu selections and raised their game. As a rising tide lifts all boats, the industry began to boom.
Higher quality cups of coffee and tea became a basic consumer demand at both home and at work. Bags of gourmet coffee were soon available in grocery stores; offices upgraded the kitchen selection for employees. Then came the advent of single serve coffee brewers, which allowed consumers to enjoy a range of drinks at the touch of a button.
At home and in the office, ease and choice meant that consumers no longer had to settle for whatever coffee was available in the pot but instead could choose something new, brewed on demand anytime they liked. Such convenience, initially thought to be a passing phenomenon, fundamentally transformed the beverage industry.
Today, grocery stores stock more single serve options than whole beans. Offices continually invest in new options for workers, many having already switched exclusively to single serve. With such popularity though, comes a call for responsibility. Better-sourced coffee and sustainable packaging have become real considerations for any business with a coffee program.
Twenty-five years ago, I would never have predicted that single serve coffee would take off and drive such change. Coffee consumption is increasing again after years of declining sales, and environmental concerns have risen to the forefront of the industry’s attention. As a long-time coffee-lover, I’m glad to see consumption back on the upswing… And this time changing the world for the better, one cup at a time.
Photo Credit: scaaevent.org