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Beyond Wholesale: Three Ways to Boost Your Coffee Sales

Learn how innovative UK roasters are exploring new sales channels, from paid ads to the shop local movement, to grow their sales. Bonus: three ideas to diversify your offer and how to make your brand stand out online!

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If wholesale and retail have historically been the two most obvious sales channels for new roasteries, that changed in the Spring of 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, businesses in all sectors of the economy were forced to quickly embrace e-commerce to survive. Two years later, direct-to-consumer (D2C) channels are booming. However, roasters know that creating an online shop isn’t enough to boost sales.

Today, even small roasteries need to be innovative to grow their sales. Over-reliance on one income stream is likely to sail businesses into troubled waters.

With changes in consumer behaviour and innovations in technology happening, diversifying your sales channels has never been more important. 

To find out how roasting companies can embrace innovation, we spoke with three UK roasters adopting diverse channels and out-of-the-box strategies to keep customers coming. Keep reading to discover how Simone Guerini Rocco of 80 Stone Coffee Roasters, Dan Webber of Chimney Fire Coffee and Harley Butcher of Cuppers Choice explored new sales channels whilst creating a diverse offering and consolidating their brands.

Paid ads to leverage your shop and your partners

When COVID-19 hit, Chimney Fire Coffee Roasters had to switch from wholesale fast. “We were 80% wholesale and 20% retail, but that literally switched overnight”, remembers the roastery's Director Dan Webber. He says that they continue to leverage wholesale customers but with a twist: selling retail bags through them to their London client base. Also, “we were able to engage with our retail market directly via targeted online ads”, he explains.

Paid search advertising on search engines and even promoted pins on Google Maps are great options for roasters looking to stand out to new customers in their area. 

As specialty coffee is a lifestyle product, roasters can also embrace targeted ads on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook and TikTok. Rather than just promote your roastery, one option is to advertise about the shops where your coffees are available to purchase in person. This way, you also support the growth of your wholesale network.

Targeted ads helped Chimney Fire capture the attention of retail customers in their area

80 Stone embraced the "shop local" movement with a pick-up box outside of the roastery (Photo: 80 Stone)

Pick-up options for the ultra-locals

The shop local movement got big in the last couple of years. This was the trend that 80 Stone Coffee Roasters decided to embrace. Simone says that “the last two years gave us a chance to rethink and to try new things. We realised we wanted to get more in touch with our local customers." The roaster adds that:

"We focussed our sales promotions on our local community and even added a safe box outside the roastery. People could place an order and swing by to collect it even if the roastery was closed. We’d simply email them a code for the safe box.”

Not so local buyers still wanted to support their nearby businesses, creating opportunities for roasters to branch out to other outlets beyond coffee shops or restaurants. “While our wholesale market was affected during lockdown, we saw a big increase in the number of local shops and delis that wanted to stock our coffee”, Simone starts. “We gained a great connection with new customers who now had time to care about where their coffee was grown and roasted.”

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International partnerships to take you abroad

For Cuppers Choice, a roastery that opened days before the first lockdown in the UK, focusing on the local market wasn’t really an option. “International buyers love British brands. We have a really strong design style which makes us stand out and we also back up that aesthetic with a solid sourcing policy. International buyers can often be looking to spend more too, understanding that they will need to pay a premium for quality”, Harley explains.

A good option for starting to investigate the international market is to put your coffee on multi-roaster distribution channels in Europe such as Gustatory, The Coffee Vine, KaffeBox, Slurp, Bean Portal, Good Brew, Indy Coffee Box, Dog & Hat Coffee, Brew Box Coffee, Yonder Coffee and Rise Coffee Box.

How to make your brand stand out online

The big challenge brought by e-commerce, multi-roaster retail distributors and breaching towards other countries is the extra competition. A diverse coffee portfolio with a few showstoppers is essential to attract new customers, as well as a strong brand and visual identity. 

For Harley, provenance and transparency are two key elements of Cuppers Choice's marketing strategy.  

“Sourcing is a big part of our marketing. We tell all our customers [national or international] about our supply chain. We buy coffee in a way that supports producers, committing to contracts as far as 18 months in advance”, the roaster explains.

Though roasters’ online presence needs to be strong in today’s market, creating experiences for customers can also help boost your brand and promote your values. And ultimately, values are what make shoppers loyal in the long term. Dan stresses the importance of this idea saying that “we have an engaged local market who care about where their coffee comes from. We run weekly roastery tours and this really engages them in the product and the brand”.

A strong visual identity helps brands stand out, especially when it's backed up by a solid sourcing policy

Chimney Fire ran focus groups to find out which was the most popular capsule profile with their customers (Photo: Simon Weller)

Three ideas to make your offering more diverse

Roasters can make their portfolios more diverse by either increasing their range of coffees or by adding new coffee products to their list. Chimney Fire, for example, opted to invest in compostable pods. “We ran numerous focus groups to make sure the product was right for customers. It needed to be better than what they were already buying but not too different! A capsule takes time to get right, so we had to make sure we included our customers in the process.” Embracing pods as a new product was in line with Chimney Fire's values as well. 

"We went down this route as it was a good way to make one of our most popular coffees from Peru more accessible to a wider market", Dan explains. "It's the third year we've sourced this coffee directly from this co-operative, so it's nice to be able to increase volumes by increasing the demand for it."

The alignment between new products and business values also played a role for 80 Stone, who chose to partner with a local brewery to launch a collab coffee porter using a lot roasted by them.  “This fits with our ‘buy local’ ideals as it brings together two local businesses with a product that can be on the shelves of nearby shops”, Simone explains.

Cuppers Choice followed the same principle but as provenance is their selling point, they chose to offer seven different coffees from Rwanda at the same time. “This fits with our ethos [of] committing to buy these coffees to support the growers whilst showcasing the beauty of Rwandan coffee to our consumers”, Harley starts. “We believe strongly in symbiotic business principles for all involved and maintain that we do what we say we do.”

Introducing pods to their offering was a way for Chimney Fire to boost the accessibility of a popular coffee to new customers and increase demand (Photo: Chimney Fire)

This article was written by Emma Haines, the founder of UK-based Caffeina Consulting. For the last ten years, Emma has focused on specialty coffee training and how to incorporate specialty elements into commercial environments. She is a resident trainer at the London School of Coffee and part of the SCA Equity, Diversity & Inclusivity Taskforce. Access to education, especially in producing countries is a driver in her career. Emma has experience with the supply chain and a focus on sustainability and gender equity. As a coffee professional, she strives to drive change through education, whether working with a client to oversee a new café start-up or supporting producers with access to a new market.

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