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Coffee promotion & education in the U.S.: The end of an era.

Coffee promotion & education in the U.S. The end of an era

For almost 10 years, Mike Levin directed the successful marketing, public relations, and educational activities as president of the Washington, D.C. based Coffee Development Group (CDG), the U.S. Promotion Office of the International Coffee Organization Promotion Fund. Despite the CDG's outstanding record, the ICO's Promotion Fund, which represents approximately 50 coffee producing nations, made the extraordinary decision last October, 1990 to close their promotion offices in Oslo, Norway; Paris, France; and Washington, D.C.; as well as cut-back on its London, England staff. "The dismantling of the CDG," Mike Levin said, "has absolutely no reflection on the success of the organization." "It was almost solely based upon the lack of available promotion funds, which was caused by the drastic reduction in coffee prices to the producer."

Mike Levin is proud of CDG's accomplishments in the U.S. and is quick to point out key successful activities and campaigns initiated by his office. "As the CDG era winds down, it is clear that our marketing, education, and promotional activities did result in the accomplishment of the overall objectives of the organization. We are especially proud of the fact that through our various committees and board of directors, we were able to bring together the coffee industry, people who would normally compete in the marketplace for the same accounts, with trade associations and develop programs for the mutual benefit of the entire industry."

When ask for a summary of the major accomplishments of the organization during its tenure, Levin enthusiastically listed a multitude of activities. "We took a national leadership role the past seven years in developing an iced cappuccino/coffee product and convincing the industry that a market for these products not only exists, but that it could result in a significant increase in consumption and sales." Levin emphasized, "that by conducting field experiments starting back in 1983 on college campuses and then in 1984 at the Olympics in Los Angeles, followed by a series of projects including research studies, symposiums, promotion and marketing efforts on college campuses, sampling and displays at various trade fairs, and finally with a presentation at the NCA Annual Convention, the CDG has not only created excitement but also tangible results." According to CDG, there are now over 15 different iced coffee products already in the marketplace, which are experiencing excellent consumer response. Some industry analysts predict that as a result of CDG's efforts, cold coffee beverages could represent a one-billion dollar category within 10 years.

The activity which will most likely yield the greatest long-term result is CDG's College Coffeehouse Program. "In a unique arrangement that married the coffee industry, college foodservice officials, and CDG staff," Levin indicated, "we were able to have a very positive effect on the image and consumption of coffee by the young adult market," a key target group for the ICO. The CDG opened about 85 coffeehouses on 66 college campuses around the country. According to Levin, "These coffeehouses served the finest quality coffee available anywhere. We introduced the students to the many varieties of coffee and served them a great tasting coffee which used 2.5 to 3.2 ounces of coffee per pot. And, guess what? The students embraced it in overwhelming numbers." Sales at CDG coffeehouses increased every year during its eight-year life, with most schools experiencing a solid 25% or more increase in annual sales. Several independent research studies conducted for CDG also demonstrated that through the introduction of a quality beverage, educating students about the product, and through consistent promotional efforts geared toward their lifestyle, students will have a positive image of the beverage.

Over the years, CDG reached out to various parts of the coffee trade as part of its efforts to serve the entire industry. The important food-service segment was also targeted by CDG. Mike Levin explains this effort: CDG's efforts in this segment was an effort to increase the quality of the coffee served at restaurants, hotels, and institutional foodservice operations. In an effort to compliment the excellent programs of the NCA in this segment, CDG developed a comprehensive curriculum on coffee and then implemented a series of over 115 train-the-trainer seminars to over 4,000 professors and students in an effort to train professors on how to teach coffee. The activity resulted in the educational program entitled "The Essence of Coffee" which has been extremely popular with professors, and students. Levin noted that one positive aspect of the project which was not planned was the overwhelming interest by coffee companies to use these materials to train their own staffs.

Another important segment of the coffee industry was the specialty coffee industry, which was just starting to emerge in 1984 when CDG began its formal programs in this area. "CDG's Specialty coffee programs actually started as part of our college coffeehouse activity," explains Levin. "In order to ensure freshness and high quality, we required each coffeehouse to serve only whole bean and freshly ground, specialty coffee." From there, CDG worked closely with the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) and many specialty coffee retailers and roasters to develop materials that consistently sold more than any other CDG item. "Since 1985," Levin said, "we have sold more than $4 million consumer brochures as part of our Gourmet Coffee Information Center." One of CDG's first activities for the specialty coffee industry was to conduct a market research study, which revealed consumer's attitudes and habits regarding specialty coffee. According to Levin, "the study provided the industry for the first time with a profile of their customer. It served as a basis upon which the industry could plan its future." CDG also developed two manuals - one to serve as a coffee educational resource, and one to assist retailers with tips for promotion and merchandising. (The promotional manual just received a national award for publications produced by trade groups.) To help the newly formed SCAA, CDG co-financed and co-produced the first annual specialty coffee conference and trade show in 1989. Levin added, "CDG's programs in this segment have helped fuel the tremendous growth that we have experienced over the last few years."

Although it caused some confusion in the early years regarding the objectives of the ICO's efforts in the U.S., Mike Levin doesn't want people to forget that CDG was an outgrowth of an initial cooperative effort with the OCS industry through the National Coffee Service Association (NCSA). "We owe a great deal to the many fine men and women from the OCS industry who spent a considerable amount of time planning and working on the activities and growth of the CDG," commented Levin. "These early volunteers established the overall structure of the organization and graciously planned its growth so that CDG would benefit the entire coffee industry, not just OCS." As a result of its roots, many of CDG's original materials were developed for the OCS industry. "In addition to providing the industry with a variety of educational, sales, training, and marketing materials, we have had some innovative projects over the years," Levin emphasized. "One example that comes to mind was our architectural liaison project, which was conducted in the early 1980's as a joint project with the NCSA. Focusing on developing the proper spatial requirements for coffee break areas, the program sought to train architects on how to properly design and integrate coffee break areas in offices just as they would other standard areas of an office."

Another early program was established to increase the consumption of coffee through vending machines by improving the quality of a cup of coffee. "Our

initial market research of consumers of vended coffee indicated that the beverage had a severe image problem," said Levin. "So, in conjunction with the National Automatic Merchandisers Association (NAMA), we developed a series of projects to both improve the quality of vended coffee and to improve its image," added Levin. "CDG's best selling audio visual, "They Call Us The Coffee Cops" taught route personnel the basics of servicing coffee vending machines so that the machine would consistently produce a high quality product." Additional vended coffee projects included educational seminars and symposiums, and the development of an attractive graphic for the front of vending machines that helped improve the beverage's image.

In summary, the above results, combined with the results of more than 70 projects conducted annually by CDG, demonstrate that the program was an unqualified success. When asked what the overall impact CDG has been on the coffee market and industry, Levin replied, "It is difficult to judge the direct impact of CDG's many programs. However, if we examine the state of the industry in 1980 compared to the state of the industry in 1991, I am proud to say that the coffee beverage and industry are better off today. I truly believe that there is a clear cause and effect relationship where CDG programs have been effective. The best example I can provide comes from the results of the 1991 Winter Coffee Drinking Study conducted by CDG/ICO. It indicates that the long downward decline of coffee consumption in the U.S. is over, and that a new five-year trend of stable consumption has emerged. CDG's primary mission was to stop the consumption decline and the first phase of that goal has been accomplished. It is now up to the coffee industry to continue that trend!"

The author is a partner in Chwat/Weigend Associates, a congressional and government relations firm located in Washington, D.C.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Title Annotation:interview with Mike Levin formerly of the International Coffee Organization's Coffee Development Group
Author:Chwat, John
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:Interview
Date:Feb 1, 1991
Words:1589
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