To say that the Coronavirus has turned businesses upside down would be an understatement. Beyond the virus itself, the economic impact of this pandemic has been immeasurable and catapulted the world into unprecedented times of uncertainty. However, with every crisis comes opportunity. And the bigger the crisis, the bigger the opportunity to turn calamity into something positive. While a majority of businesses are taking quite the hit, one industry seems to be holding strong if not improving. You guessed it: The Coffee Industry.
As the most popular drink in the world, coffee has long been regarded as a recession proof commodity due to the fact that it's a relatively cheap luxury. During economic downturns, consumers naturally look to such commodities to save money while still enjoying the simple pleasures of life. According to a report by Fox Business News, data from research firm Nielsen noted that U.S. packaged coffee sales increased 24.9% over a four-week period during the outbreak.
In looking to gain more insight into the current situation, Best Quality Coffee interviewed a number of independent coffee businesses to see how Coronavirus (Covid-19) has affected their business and existing relationships. You may be surprised by the results.
With the closure of tens of thousands of coffee stores across the country, coffee lovers are now buying more coffee online. Some companies I spoke with have seen their sales triple since the outbreak. But this increase in online sales has ushered in another reality. More people than ever are now brewing coffee at home.
Scott Burr, founder of Carta Coffee Merchants in Hawaii, has seen a huge uptick in emails for guidance on how to make coffee. This underscores a simple fact. There are many people who love coffee but don't actually know how to make it. “I've gotten many emails asking a range of questions from how to use a French Press to how to grind coffee. Some people don't have grinders and so I suggest alternative ways to do it”. [For those in this camp, check out this article on how to grind your coffee with a vitamix]
Despite these times of uncertainty, Burr has a very positive outlook on the coffee industry.
“For my business, I think it's going to be a positive,” said Burr who has seen a spike in sales since the outbreak. “But everything is still going to change and things won't necessarily be the same.”
He continues,” with everyone being at home and quarantined, I think people are naturally looking to try new things. With this extra time, they're opening up their minds, bodies, and mouths to new experiences when it comes to coffee.” Burr also believes that the current coffee situation has people buying coffee online who would've been previously afraid to do so. “I think there are many people who are now willing to dip their toes into the world of online shipping and e-commerce. They're also discovering that it's not a scary process.”
How the Coffee Community is Giving Back
Financial uncertainty usually triggers business owners into survival mode which is totally understandable. But for some businesses, it prompts charity and these are the companies that've given new meaning to the phrase “we're all in this together”. After speaking with independent coffee companies across the country, I've been inspired by their desire to help their communities, customers, and even competitors. Whether it was helping first responders or families who needed financial help, these coffee companies have been sacrificing to meet the needs of their communities.
One family-run roaster called Out of the Grey Coffee (OOTG) is a prime example of this. Jack Barton, also known by many as Java Jack, is the company's founder and built his family-owned business on the premise of helping others while pursuing his passion for coffee. The company was already donating to police officers and firefighters well before the pandemic hit and since then has only expanded its charity work. Currently, they've been making special deliveries of their free coffee to university employees as well as well many random people. “I've never regretted giving”, says Barton who's known by many of his customers, colleagues, and friends for his generosity. Since the outbreak, the company has also seen a significant increase in revenue from online sales as well as an increase in overall online customers.
Other companies such as Lifeboost Coffee, whose sales have remained strong through the pandemic, have also moved forward in the spirit of charity. In addition to giving away bags to random people, the company has allocated over 2,000 bags of their top-shelf coffee to donate to first responders and those in need, with 500 of them already going to a hospital in New Jersey.
In response to the times, Dr. Charles Livingston, founder of Lifeboost Coffee, shared that the company will be launching a potent probiotic cold brew coffee in the next month or so. Given the importance of a healthy immune system especially now, this is a very timely product.
In addition to donating coffee, some companies are even revamping their business models. One such company is NakedCBD who makes perhaps the highest pharmaceutical-grade CBD coffee on the market. According to their founder Aaron White, the company has converted two of their manufacturing lines to produce hand sanitizers for 1st responders. They will be producing the same sanitizers for public use in the very near future.
White is also helping other coffee companies infuse and emulsify their coffee beans with CBD, a move which would be unheard of at any other time given how competitive the industry is. He knows the value of CBD and wants to help other companies share these benefits with their customers. NakedCBD, like many others, has also been giving away CBD coffee products to fire fighters and policemen.
Another company that's made significant changes to their business to help meet community needs is Humblemaker Coffee based out of California. The company, who already donates 10% off all proceeds to fighting Autism, has sought an innovative and practical way of helping. According to one of their founders, Chris Smith, the company has partnered with other vendors to offer essentials such as eggs, bread, and alternative milk to the local community. Given the national shortage of such key commodities, their cafe now serves as a convenient pick up point for customers. They've been selling these products out of their cafe and here's the kicker: They're selling it for ZERO profit.
Amidst the Coronavirus, Humblemaker Coffee's cafe has remained open with revised hours and curb-side pickup. They've implemented a touchless transaction system using the app called Joe Coffee and donated part of their profits to a Covid-19 relief fund. Smith says, “Every week it seems like something new. We're just trying to do our part. If everyone does what they can, collectively that makes a huge difference and we can hopefully be a part of that.”
Another interesting note is that all coffee companies I spoke to were highly complimentary of how reliable shipping services such as UPS, FedEx, and the post office have been.
Whether your profession is considered essential or non-essential, front lines or behind the scenes, I think we can all deeply appreciate a good cup of coffee…especially now. Drinking coffee has an normalizing effect that's undeniable. We've always heard it referred to as the “fuel of the world” but the world is now appreciating just how true that is.
In conclusion, the only certain thing about the future is its uncertainty. What the coffee landscape will look like 1 month or 1 year from now remains a mystery. But one thing's for sure. In my discussions with these independent coffee businesses, it's clear the industry has been coming together when everything seems like it's falling apart. The companies mentioned above have approached these times with an open heart as opposed to closed wallet.
It's this kind of solidarity that makes me proud to be in the coffee industry.
For up to date industry news as it relates to the Coronavirus, check out the National Coffee Association.