Café owners and roasters, you can’t afford to not market your decaf coffee. According to the 2017 NCA Coffee Drinking Trends, 10–14% of US Americans have drunk decaf in the last day (depending on ethnicity). And the majority of those are millennials and younger drinkers – the same ones who, the study finds, are drinking the most “gourmet” or specialty coffee.
How many more people would have stopped off at your café to order a coffee, along with a muffin or bagel, had they realised that you offer specialty decaf? How many more would have purchased your bag of roasted decaf over herbal tea?
We reached out to five coffee businesses that sell Swiss Water Process roasted decaf coffee to find out how they successfully market it. Here’s what we learned.
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Decaf coffee and the day’s news. Credit: Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Company
Understand Your Target Market
Who are you marketing your decaf coffee to: existing customers or new ones? Younger or older generations? Expecting mums or health-conscious professionals?
No matter who your audience is, you need to know them in order to design the most effective marketing strategies. Fortunately, there are a lot of sources of information available to you. Gather information on who is currently purchasing your decaf, whether through email surveys, website data, or in-store analysis. Read local and international studies, such as the ones by the NCA. Speak to your decaf supplier.
Susan Castle is the Director of Marketing, Strategy & Development at The Bean Alliance, which sells Swiss Water decaf coffee under the brand Bean Ground & Drunk in large Australian supermarket chains (including Woolworths and Coles) as well as small specialty stores. As she tells us, their single origin organic and Fairtrade decaf coffee “is in every supermarket store in Australia”.
But not so long ago, they changed their marketing approach. “We were recently informed by Swiss Water… that there is an emerging coffee audience for their product, which is people between 20 and 25 who were previously energy drink consumers but realised that having energy drinks isn’t as good for your body as perhaps decaf coffee is. They were transitioning from energy drinks to coffee, and then from caffeinated coffee to decaf coffee, depending on the amount of caffeine they consume per day.”
This audience, she continues, “is quite sizeable. In Australia, for example, that market segment from 18 to 30 represents about a quarter of our population.”
Find out more! Read Millennials Turn to Decaf: What Does This Mean for Café Owners?
This led them to do more research into what younger coffee consumers are looking for – something that, in turn, transformed their marketing. They aligned themselves with the specialty coffee movement, as well as with what Susan describes as “the global trend towards organic, towards health and awareness around our bodies, and what we are putting into our bodies”.
And was this approach effective? Yes, she tells me, in conjunction with other techniques, it proved successful for the Australian brand.
Data-based marketing works – so make sure you understand who’s purchasing your decaf coffee, who might be tempted to purchase it, and what they’re looking for.
Pulling a shot of decaf espresso. Credit: Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Company
Focus on The Coffee, Not The Caffeine
Regardless of your target market, there are lessons to be learned from The Bean Alliance’s focus on specialty coffee. If you want your customers to want your decaf coffee, rather than simply avoiding caffeinated options, you need to position it as more than just decaf. You need to position it as great coffee.
As Aika Daikuhara, International Business Manager at Maruyama Coffee, Japan, tells us, they market decaf coffee by focusing on the fact that it’s exceptional coffee. “We recommend the best-quality decaf to our customers. It’s all about cup quality.”
Unfortunately, decaf coffee has a bad reputation. Yet, more times than not, this is the result of past experiences of poor-quality decaf. James Wogan of Wogan Coffee in the UK says, “Most people’s experience of decaf will likely be as the secondary coffee, hidden from sight and not really cared about, rather than something to be celebrated for its taste!”
So, assuming that you have great decaf on the menu, start telling people this. Let customers know if it’s a single origin or blend. Share with them the tasting notes. Explain how it was produced and who by. Offer it as a pour over coffee as well as an espresso.
The Bean Alliance took this to heart. Susan tells me, “We started to market based on the fact that we were sourcing and roasting a single origin decaf coffee… We switched to say we have a ‘Peruvian single origin Fairtrade and it happens to be decaf’.”
Cupping decaf Honduran Cafélatera at Wogan Coffee. Credit: Josh Perrett
Treat Decaf as a Specialty Product
But that’s not all that The Bean Alliance did. Susan tells me, “Typically, decaffeinated is not treated like a regular caffeinated coffee in cafés. For example, [we noticed that] it wasn’t being freshly ground. It was being delivered to cafés as pre-ground, opened and maybe added it to a container or a Tupperware recipient or something like that, so it was always stale when customers were going to have it made for them.”
The company took practical steps to counter this: “One of the ways we dealt with that was introducing the blue grinder programme, and the blue grinder was about having a smaller powder-coated blue grinder at cafés… When people see the blue grinder, they immediately know that this particular café is grinding decaffeinated beans fresh.
“Also… because cafés typically don’t use as much volume of decaf as they do with caffeinated coffee, we only supply 250g size packages. We don’t supply 1kg sizes like we do with regular coffee.”
Good coffee needs to be treated like good coffee. Not only should you be following the same best practices that you do with your regular coffee, but you should also be letting your customers know that you do this.
Decaf coffee being brewed at the Swiss Water pop-up store in Los Angeles, 2016. Credit: Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Company
Organise Cuppings & Other Events
You know the phrase “the proof is in the pudding”? Well, when it comes to coffee, the proof is in the cupping.
Guy Wilmot is the Co-Founder of Decadent Decaf Coffee Co, a line of decaf-only single origin coffees and espresso blends that has won five Great Taste awards. He says that one of the biggest challenges is “convincing the public that decaf can taste great and have the same nuances, cup profile diversity, and versatility when it comes to making various different types of coffees, from V60s to flat whites.”
The solution? “The only way is education, education, education,” he says, “combined with getting people to try decaf, which is why I think the Swiss Water Decaf popup cafés in New York and LA were such a great idea… We know that, if the public can learn more about decaf coffee and then taste it, we’ve gained another decaf champion.”
He says that he “would happily do the ‘Pepsi Challenge’ with any decaf naysayer”, referring to the infamous blind tasting where people were unable to tell the difference between Pepsi and Coca-Cola.
James takes a similar approach to proving how great decaf can be. “We constantly run cuppings of all of our coffees and decaf is always a really interesting option to throw into a blind session,” he says. “In fact, in a cupping open to the public, 3 of 15 people actually chose our organic Fairtrade Swiss Water Process from the Cocafelol Co-Op in Honduras as their favourite.”
Some of the Decadent Decaf range of single origins: Ethiopia Sidamo, Costa Rica SHB, Indonesia Sumatra Mandehling, and Kenya AA. Credit: Decadent Decaf Coffee Co
Show Off Your Decaf Coffee Labels & Certifications
If you’ve already followed the previous four steps, you know you’re serving great decaf – and that you’re serving it well. Your customers know that some decaf is exceptionally good. So, the only thing left to do is show them that your decaf is one of the exceptional ones.
Andi Trindle Mersch is the Director of Coffee at Philz Coffee in the US, which uses the Swiss Water Process logo on their website. “Personally, I’d like to see the logo used in the stores as well,” she says, “as I think it helps steer our customers to a source for information and provides them the opportunity to be proud of our decaf offerings.”
Education is important, but it can cost time and money. Philz Coffee prefers to let the logo do the hard work for them. “We make fairly basic (i.e. limited) information available about the process in our team member training and on our customer-facing website,” Andi explains, “but then rely on steering both to the Swiss Water website, where we feel they do a great job educating consumers. We don’t see a need to reinvent the wheel there.”
Similarly, Susan tells me, “One aspect of our marketing is making sure the proper accreditations are assigned and obvious to our customers.” In The Bean Alliance’s case, this means making sure that the Fairtrade, Organic, and Swiss Water Process trademarks are “right there at the front of our products”.
The Bean Alliance’s blue grinders are also another simple symbol letting consumers know that high-quality decaf is being served there. One of the reasons that it works so well is it’s a simple, consistent message – blue grinders mean good decaf.
Guy also advocates consistency. He tells me that, at Decadent Coffee, he “chose to go for Swiss Water Decaf exclusively for a consistent message to consumers”.
As your customers develop trust in the brand of decaf coffee you’re using, reinforce that belief. With time, you’ll need to invest fewer resources in conversions and simply allow the brands to speak for themselves – leaving you more time to focus on what you do best: making and selling great coffee.
Five of Decadent Decaf’s specialty coffee origins. Credit: Decadent Decaf Coffee Co
As café owners and roasters, there is no single item on your menu that you can afford to neglect. You should be marketing your decaf options with the same purpose and consistency that you market your caffeinated options. Understand your customers. Hold events to tell them about your offerings’ quality and variety. And, most importantly of all, treat your decaf as the high-quality, specialty coffee it is.
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Written by Tanya Newton, with interviews conducted by Sam Koh and Nicholas Yamada.
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