Roaster’s Guild Retreat Recap
Another Roaster’s Guild Retreat has past and the SCAA is celebrating a record attendance for this year’s event. Filled with educational and certification class work, round tables, and of course, roasting. This year’s roaster event was well organized and managed. I am sure that it was a really profitable endeavor for the Roaster’s Guild and therefore the SCAA.
Something seemed missing however – the feeling of camaraderie and fun. Now admittedly, that is not meant to be the top reason for attending but it certainly is a big one. The official parties seemed subdued and, broke into small clutches of old friends pretty quickly. With over 50% of the attendees being first timers, this meant that a substantial number of folks were left with nothing to do after 10PM. Maybe this is why so many first timers don’t return. Classes and certifications are great but the fellowship and networking that the Roaster’s Retreat is know for is also of extreme importance. For the most part, roasters are pretty shy (roasting is not a job for folks who need a lot of company) and the Retreat gives an opportunity to “let down” with like kinds. This year the Retreat did not reach out far enough to these new participants.
I think that one reason for this may have been how the Saturday bonfire was organized. The winners were announced very early in the evening. After the announcement the party pretty much broke up and scattered. The last time it was at Stonewall, the winners were announced late in the evening after everyone was pretty toasted but everyone stayed and interacted with each other because they wanted to know if their team won. It made for better networking – something to think about for next year.
One thing I took away from the Retreat itself is a rising level of worry that consumers are just not that into the nuance of specialty coffees; after all these years of promotion and education, that 83% of consumers that drink coffee daily remained plateaued at commercial, office, and chain coffees. They are not positively responding to the message of incrementally improving quality. As quality, (and the increased costs associated with it) rise, consumers are not rewarding small roasters for the efforts. There is a sense that most of the coffee consumers are just along for the ride and will pretty much drink “good” quality coffee (as long as it scores in the 70’s and 80’s).
Now this is not to say that small boutique roasters cannot make a market for their superior coffees. However, with a plateaued market and more and more new roasters coming on line, the result is intense competition. So what is the solution? One thing is for sure: it is NOT a price war! In this, everyone loses, the roasters battling it out with each other resulting in less money to be able to purchase quality green, or even stay in business. And the consumer, who is being taught to expect more for less, will also eventually be the loser when their source of great quality coffee can no longer afford to buy it, roast it and sell it. The solution is better business! Roasters, it is time to brush up on those business skills, marketing practices, cost containment, and customer service, to win the race, stay in business and even grow and thrive. Not sure where to find more skills? Find yourself a mentor. Read books. Join a professional group. Seek out classes. Challenge yourself to grow!
And on that note, a huge congratulations to Michael Kell of GoodBean Coffee for organizing an amazing event at the Oregon State Fair this year and to Rogue Coffee Roasters on winning the Overall 2013 Best Coffee In Oregon Competition! Be sure to check out bestcoffeeinoregon.com for details on all of the winners!
Kerri & Miles