CAC Conference stressed the need to do more for the entire supply chain

The Coffee Association of Canada virtually gathered the coffee community on 16 and 17 November to share their experiences, insights and challenges. The sessions were informative and entertaining, providing reflections and concrete strategies that embodied the conference’s theme: Refilling Our Cup.

Sustainability was an integral part of most sessions, emphasising the necessity to do more throughout the supply chain; increasing wages is not enough; it is about investing the time to listen to concerns (whether it is at the producer or employee level) and responding to them. This was a conference that stressed the necessity to do more both to respond to consumer demand and to ensure that coffee remained an integral part of the future.

The significance of fostering and strengthening connections along the supply chain resonated throughout the sessions. The sessions did not simply provide facts, although there were plenty of tangible takeaways; it was about peeling back the layers and creating an industry that had a positive impact.

The two-day conference included analysts’ insights from Euromonitor International, The NPD Group, Dig Insights, Bank of Montreal, and IMI International, each speaker providing their take on the challenges and opportunities that face the industry. The message was clear: coffee is far from your standard beverage; it evolves and adapts to the needs of the consumer.

“I like to think there is a coffee for everyone; the older that you are, the more likely you are to drink traditional coffee, while the specialty segment tends to skew younger,” said Cheryl Hung, VP, Dig Insights. The sessions stressed that customers could not be lumped into one bucket; there are generational, economic and social differences that will all impact their expectations for coffee.

Vanessa Toperczer, SVP, IMI, infused some fun into the consumer analysis by comparing consumers of three popular Canadian brands: Starbucks, Tim Hortons, and McDonald’s. She shared that Starbucks consumers more frequently think about leaving a positive impact, think about physical activity more and follow a skin care regime; while Tim Hortons customers look for deals in paper-based flyers, think and talk about mental health, and watch and follow football; and McCafé customers purchase because a brand makes them feel good about themselves, listen to google play and tend to take public transportation.

The underlying message was clear: brands need to understand what their customers care about to create messages that strengthen those connections.

“Coffee will always be more than just a drink,” said Lori Digulla, SVP and general manager, Starbucks, Canada. “But there are massive changes on how our customers want to connect over coffee.” Today’s consumers have developed high expectations for the brands they associate with, believing that for profit companies have a responsibility to their employees, the environment, and the players along the supply chain.

Environmental, economic, and social sustainability has become the foundation for the industry; however, sustainability on its own is no longer enough. “We need to find ways to be responsible in our various business practices and continue to build strong organisational cultures that are focused on diversity and inclusion,” said Olivier Lemire, president, Keurig Dr Pepper, Canada.

Companies need to continually innovate and evolve to respond to the shifting needs of consumers. The experience, whether it is in the coffee shop, at home, or through delivery, matters. “In terms of innovation, I admit I am looking for that next thing in coffee,” said Sylvain Charlebois, The Food Professor. “We launched cold brew a few years ago, but we need an innovation agenda as an industry. You need to keep consumers intrigued as much as possible and remember that it is not just about the product, but about the experience.”

The two-day conference revealed a collaborative community that were committed to continually improving and evolving the coffee industry. It is about taking care of the entire supply chain and responding to the evolving needs of the consumer so that coffee remains an integral part of our experiences.

  • Anne-Marie Hardie is a freelance writer, professor and speaker based in Barrie, Ontario. She may be reached at: [email protected].

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