A Bloomberg report that identified Folgers as the top-selling ground coffee brand (by volume) in U.S. grocery stores has resulted in what seems to be an endless stream of unsolicited attacks on “coffee snobbery.” It begs the question, “What can we do as an industry to help elevate the mainstream discussion of coffee quality and culture?”
This is from the original Bloomberg report, Sorry Coffee Snobs, America’s Favorite Is Still Folgers:
Folgers remains the country’s leading brand, with an average 15.6 percent share of the U.S. market, by volume, from May to July, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Maxwell House (KRFT) came in second with 10 percent. Private labels ranked third, followed by Green Mountain with 4.3 percent. Starbucks held only 3.3 percent.
The report goes into no detail on how the numbers were compiled, nor on how they compare to market share analyses in previous years. Instead, it quotes a source from JM Smucker Co. — the company that owns the Folgers brand, as well as Dunkin’ Donuts, Cafe Bustelo and other retail coffee brands — who says that the increase in sales is most likely due to a new jingle. The jingle (“the best part of waking up, is Folgers in your cup”), is performed by a group of young dulcimer-wielding men who look like they may also be extras in a Mumford and Sons video. Nice video? Maybe. A well-coordinated attempt to tap into a younger, influential market? Probably. Responsible for a 4 percent increase in ground coffee sales in the U.S. in the past three months? Doubtful.
Many papers and magazines framed the Bloomberg report as an affront to Starbucks. Here’s from Time Magazine’s Folgers Is (Still) America’s Favorite Coffee
Despite the growing ranks of artisanal, cold-brewed and single-origin coffees now stocked on supermarket shelves, Americans still buy more Folgers than any other brand—even Starbucks, reports Bloomberg Businessweek.
To those papers, let’s remember that the Bloomberg report only measures ground coffee sales in grocery stores by volume. To say that those market share numbers mean that Folgers is a more popular coffee brand than Starbucks is at best misleading, although it may sound great in a headline.
But Starbucks is not the victim here. The real victims are what many mainstream sources are referring to as “coffee snobs,” who might be defined as those coffee drinkers who take an interest in the quality and taste of their coffees, or those who enjoy espresso drink types. Or, these “snobs” may go so far as to take an interest in brewing methods, coffee roasting, local coffee companies, or even an approach toward ethical consumption of sustainable coffee. God forbid.
To these “snobs,” here is one of the more subtle “I told you so’s” resulting from the Bloomberg report. This one comes from the L.A. Times:
There may be a gourmet coffee shop on every corner of Los Angeles and a barista who is all too happy to tell you what kind of milk you should have in your coffee, but not every coffee drinker in America is a coffee snob. And not everyone can afford the designer coffee. In fact, many prefer to make their own at home, with Folgers.
The most ridiculous unsolicited attack on coffee “snobbery” comes from Rebecca Greenfield at the Atlantic Wire, who begins with the odd premise that the number of blog posts on coffee culture should somehow result in big market swings for corporate giants like J.M. Smucker:
Coffee snobs are offended that Americans love low-brow grocery-store brand Folgers most; in fact, consumers are buying more of the mainstream beans than any of the other brands available on grocery store shelves. One Atlantic Wire editor calls this trend “depressing” because “we have so much good coffee.” “We” may be taking it too far: Much of the country doesn’t obsess over — nor have access to — single pours and single origin. In fact, despite an abundance of blog posts and magazine articles about (fancy) coffee culture, the majority of coffee drinkers don’t — on the regular — choose to participate in the fetishization of caffeine consumption.
Later, Greenfield says it’s time for some “real talk.” Unfortunately, she immediately throws out all credibility as a commentator on things related to coffee quality:
Coffee snobbery is fancy consumerism dressed up as good taste. Does expensive coffee taste good? Yes. But let’s get real: It’s not necessarily better than the cheaper stuff. It’s just that, for foodies of all types, part of the point of it all is the pageantry.
Finally, Greenfield gets more real:
The moral crusade against coffee snobs isn’t just about cost. Many people pay premiums for treats. But, it’s the evangelism, not to mention the obsession, that irritates.
Perhaps Greenfield is just crabby, or maybe she’s never had a good cup. But perhaps all of this misguided and unprovoked animosity from mainstream sources should inspire a discussion among specialty coffee professionals. Why is specialty coffee so often associated with negative customer service experiences? What, if anything, can we do to better shine the light on the virtues of good coffee for consumers without alienating them?
We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.