In addition to penning a thoughtful counterpoint to James Hoffmann’s recent exploration on the financial efficacy and theoretical place of pastries in coffee shops, the team at the London-based roastery Assembly Coffee has shared with its peers in the independent coffee world some fascinating insights into consumer preferences.
To maximize participation among coffee professionals and non-professionals alike, Assembly surveyed guests at this past April’s London Coffee Festival and subsequent events, providing brewed coffees of various strengths that were evaluated in anonymously submitted forms.
The overarching goal of the survey was to explore why, despite the tremendous growth of the UK independent coffee sector in recent years, a disproportionate number of coffee consumers still favor chains. Assembly’s Michael Cleland told Daily Coffee News that the more specific questions driving this survey were, “We are dead set on specific brew concentrations within coffee but do these correspond with the preferences of coffee consumers?” and, “If not, is this potentially a tool to encourage the engagement of coffee consumers?”
Just over 400 people responded to the survey, with 81 percent having previously worked professionally in coffee.
One of the most striking results demonstrating differences in coffee preferences between professionals and non-professionals was related to brew strength. Respondents were given three black coffees of various brew strengths as defined by a percentage (A: 10 percent; B: 5 percent; and C: 1.5 percent), and asked to rank all three in order of preference. 59.1 percent of people who had previously worked in coffee favored the 5 percent brew, with 31.8 percent favoring the 10 percent brew. Among non-professionals, the number favoring the 5 percent brew spiked to above 70 percent.
“Results indicated that brew strength could certainly influence consumers’ engagement in independent coffee,” the company said in a published analysis of the survey. “A staggering 70 percent of coffee consumers preferred drinks of 5 percent concentration which is at odds to brew strengths closer to 10 percent as an independent industry standard.”
Other survey question topics included drink orders in cafés versus coffee drinks made at home, espresso preferences, home-brewing frequency and factors that prevent return patronage to an independent coffee shop. Of the most interesting insights, another was related to what informs the decision to buy a given coffee, with respondents asked to choose between taste, trade model, convenience or wait time. Here’s how they replied:
- Taste 37.3%
- Ethically traded 28.2%
- Convenient location 21%
- Wait time 13.5%
While taste took the top spot, Assembly argues that among these factors, perhaps the biggest opportunity for differentiation among independent coffee purveyors is in their marketing and communication efforts. Citing its own theories, Assembly suggested a value proposition based on taste alone is problematic due to its subjective nature combined with a complex learning curve.
Acknowledging the relatively small sample size, the Assembly team is encouraging others in coffee to pick up the torch and help lead more research into consumer trends, particularly as they relate to differentiation and loyalty among independent shops.