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Gourmet coffee industry - year end wrap-up.

This is my favorite column of the year because it gives me a chance to clear off my desk and wrap-up this very eventful year. Gourmet coffee sales are still increasing, new consumer trends are emerging, and new products and equipment to support both are developed continually.

Trends--Mainstream Gourmet: Gourmet coffee is becoming more mainstream annually, and the success of businesses such as Starbucks and Gloria Jean's, the integration of gourmet coffee into foodservice, and the increasing amount of gourmet poundage sold through supermarkets are testimony to it.

Flavored Coffees: Flavored coffees are heavy contributors to this growth. From information I have seen, flavored coffees represent the largest growth of all gourmet segments and attract new consumers continually. Companies who manufacture the flavorings for coffee are constantly competing to come up with unique, quality taste combinations that will guarantee a steady growth for years to come. (More about this in my annual flavor survey next month.)

Italian Syrups: The trend toward flavored coffee is influencing the sales of espresso-based drinks, only the flavor is added to the drink and not the beans. Many vendors stock an array of flavored Italian syrups that can be added to a cappuccino or latte, creating both a unique drink and a more profitable menu item.

Cold Coffee/Espresso Drinks: More and more coffee and espresso drinks are served cold, and the consuming public has not only tried it, but liked it and is coming back for more. In the Seattle area, the granita, a cold espresso-based drink is popular; in Boston, iced coffee is popular, and the trend continues to grow at all points in between.

Equipment--Brewers: The airpot is a critical piece of equipment in serving coffee by the cup, and all of the major manufacturers have equipment that brews directly into airpots. Many of these same manufacturers, such as BUNN and American Metalware, who have traditionally manufactured drip coffee brewers and urns, are trying their hand at espresso-brewing equipment. This is a definite indication that espresso-based beverages are here to stay.

Traditional suppliers of espresso brewing equipment are trying to simplify the operation of their machinery, and new suppliers are bringing totally automatic machines to the market. The quality of the automatic machines vary--some are too new to have any type of track record--but just the fact that so many new machines are on the market is a testimonial to espresso's potential profitability in the marketplace.

Carts: The availability of espresso and coffee on just about every street corner in major cities shows the important retail contribution of coffee carts. Since Seattle is the hub of espresso carts, most of the cart manufacturers are on the West Coast but, with diligence, manufacturers can be located on the East Coast as well. The cost and quality of the carts, as well as the manufacturer training, can vary widely.

Display Units: Display units that hold whole bean coffee come in all shapes, materials, sizes and price ranges. Instead of just a few companies manufacturing display units, now there are quite a few who cater to coffee retailers, and these retailers are anxious for information. After my article on display uruts ran (July 1992), I got inquiries from as far away as Germany requesting more information.

Display units that advertise coffees drinks are becoming more imaginative also. Gastro Gnomes of West Hartford, CT make plastic table tents that are shaped like a cup of coffee and have an insert showing a cup of coffee and a dessert that makes your mouth water. They have an insert for listing coffee menus that can be printed on a typewriter or computer.

Packaging Machinery/Material: Packaging machinery continues to downscale in size and cost. This is testimony to the increasing number of "micro-roasters" who can't afford the room to put a huge packaging machine or the hundred or so thousand dollars to buy it. These smaller roasters want to preserve the freshness of their products, and smaller, less expensive packaging machinery fills their needs.

Packaging material that preserves freshness, along with being environmentally responsible, is also in demand. My article on "Packaging and Environmental Concerns" (May 1992) spotlighting the concept of source reduction in packaging materials elicited more reader response than any that I've ever written.

Products--Accessories: Many of the items in the Fancy Food and Gourmet Shows this past year were directly related to coffee presentations. Coffee stir sticks covered with chocolate or different colored rock candy were seen everywhere.

Confections: Chocolate covered espresso beans, numerous types of biscottis and many other types of cookies created especially to accompany coffee were developed. I think that Leonard Yohay of Yohay Baking in Brooklyn, New York, helped to pioneer this concept by personally appearing everywhere this past year showcasing his delicious line of wafer cookies.

Events--The Specialty Coffee Association of America's Annual Conference and Trade Show in Seattle was the gourmet coffee event of the year. Keynote speakers addressed gourmets' growth and espresso's importance, workshops provided information on all aspects of the gourmet coffee segment, suppliers displayed equipment and materials that targeted the needs of every type of gourmet coffee operation regardless of size, and small bands of javaheads roamed the streets looking for the perfect shot (of espresso).

In addition to being informative, the annual SCAA conference was just plain fun. Hundreds of coffee enthusiasts came together with different backgrounds but a common love of good coffee and a good time.

If you missed the event this year, plan on attending the next one in Boston in May. For more information, contact the SCAA in Long Beach, CA, (310)983-8090. See you there.

Shea Sturdivant is a consultant and writer. You can contact her c/o Grounds for Discussion, 717 Pratt Avenue, P.O. Box 10061, Huntsville, AL 35801, Tel/Fax: (205)539-5237.
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Author:Sturdivant, Shea
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 1, 1992
Words:965
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