There is a market for the single origin. Or maybe not

By Carlo Odello and Giorgia Lavaroni 

Blend or single origin in the future of coffee? Which is to say: do consumers perceive the difference or a single origin market will never exist? This is an interesting question which involves the entire process, from production to roasting and to HoReCa. A pilot study conducted by the Tasters Study Centre in collaboration with the University of Padova made an attempt to provide the first-ever scientific answer to the question.

In order to test whether or not consumers perceive the difference between a blend and a single origin, 350 tastings have been made in Padova according to the methodology defined by the International Institute of Coffee tasters. On the tasting table there was a blend of pure Arabica with seven components and four pure origins (Santo Domingo Barahona Toral AA, Ethiopia Sidamo, Colombia Armenia Supremo and Haiti XXXXX). The group that did the tastings was evenly distributed between males and females with an age comprised between 18 and 64. Two thirds had a senior high school diploma or a university degree. In terms of jobs, 23% of them were self-employed, 21% employees, 15% students, 14% pensioners, 11% blue collars, 8% housewives and then other categories. The consumers-judges have been able to distinguish the blend from the single origin, in a statistically relevant way, preferring it to the single origin. They, however, demonstrated a considerable interest in “pure” coffees.

According to the study, there has been a remarkable evolution of the coffee consumer, more and more unfaithful and at the same time increasingly focused on taste to the extent that we can assume a considerable success of innovative consumption: the coffee menu at the restaurant, new niches in the bar sector, selection of the type of coffee based on your own sensory pleasure and on the time of the day and even new rituals in the family.

Operators from the sector were too extremely interested in the research. Even several roasters point out that there has been an evolution of the consumer who is increasingly more attentive and curious. The direction in which it is moving is not definable yet, however it is true that, in a society in which there is an increasing number of people who have a knowledge about taste, the quest for new sensory experiences involves also coffee. «We live in an era in which the consumers are increasingly more attentive, selective, aware and difficult to be conquered – says Roberto Morelli, director of the Università del Caffè – and their not being faithful, quite rightly highlighted by the study, is a challenge for those who make a bacon of quality and look for their loyalty through it». This is also a nice opportunity for those who are involved in training on coffee and on qualitative excellence. «There already is an audience interested in and motivated by these issues – Morelli carries on saying – Also from this point of view, I believe that single origins will generate in future more of a cultural interest, even curiosity, rather than a real consumption trend».

Some attempts to introduce single origin coffees in bars and restaurants have started been made some time ago. Caffè River has installed in some bar san additional coffee grinder in order to give the consumer the opportunity to ask for a single origin espresso, with a choice – varying on a monthly bases – between Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Costa Rica and other Arabicas. «At the beginning, there was a certain interest, mainly driven by curiosity. This was detrimental for the standard blend which was cannibalised by a product which was perceived as being alternative to ordinary consumption – says Marco Dalla Ragione from Caffè River – In a short while, months if not even weeks, the interest in single origins weakened significantly without having even created a consumption niche alongside ordinary consumption ».

To support to what extent the market of single origins is still a controversial one, there is the extremely different experience of Evancaffè that introduced a menu of coffees in top notch restaurants. At first, clients were a bit wary, after which, the interest in single origins grew as years went by. It should be said that the enthusiasm and the desire to propose the single origins of the maîtres and of those who ran the restaurants played a crucial role in this. However, sometimes there is a lack of enthusiasm. «Based on my experience, Italian consumers are interested in single origins while, when it comes to coffee shops and restaurants, what you see is a complete lack of this sort of interest – claims Alessandro Borea de La Genovese – the single origins need to be ‘explained’ to the consumer».

Even for the large scale retail there are extremely different experiences. «Our interest in single origins is not recently born, we have a range of them which are having big success also in large scale retail– says Marco Comellini, marketing manager of Segafredo Zanetti – This is the sort of product you can sell without having to resort to the habitual promotional process». According to Comellini the consumers, rather than preferring blends to single origins, prefer having the opportunity to choose, on the coffee menu, the sort of product they want to drink in that very moment. So, while Segafredo Zanetti had a very positive experience, Vergnano is more prudent. «Distribution is very attentive to sales profitability so it’s extremely unlikely for it to afford to keep among its range products that do not attaint a certain level of sales volume – replies Francesca Panucci, marketing manager of Vergnano – Single origins will just carry on being a niche product which will give the opportunity to train consumers and to make the market evolve».

A very peculiar market, both in the HoReCa and in large scale retail. «Consumers are more attentive nowadays, they check and compare several brands and blends – says Fabrizio Polojaz of Primo Aroma – The curious consumers are fascinated by the single origins, more for the ideas they are connected with, rather than for a genuine desire to satisfy their needs». The key to this special market can be precisely these sensory needs. Only those who will be able to identify them will be able to enter or successfully stay in this market.