Hofmann and the Nespresso

James Hoffmann, part-owner of the esteemed coffee roaster Square Mile in London, penned another quality piece on his site Jimseven, entitled “Nespresso”.

Nespresso—that paragon of coffee brewing ease and convenience—has been taking some hits from the Twitter streams (and other places as well, I suppose) of coffee professionals and enthusiasts of late because they have become very successful at selling what is considered to be less-than-premium coffee at more-than-premium prices.

While I regularly, willingly, and enthusiastically pay between $17 and $25 per 12oz. bag of quality beans from reputable new-style ((…for lack of a better term. Really, can we figure out something to call modern era roasters who have broken from the Peet’s/Starbucks roasting model?)) coffee roasters, a Nespresso customer is paying much, much more per oz. Regularly. Willingly. Enthusiastically (I assume). I’ve heard (and this is from memory, not research) prices of as much as $60/lb. as not being unusual.

The assumption is that these are the same people who would crow no end of foul play and marketing chicanery at the prospect of paying what I pay, for the bag that sits in my cupboard. And yet they pay more. James seems to infer that they may be the same people…

Lots of these people buy great coffees to drink as drip – they might buy fresh whole bean coffee, well farmed and roasted, to drink alongside their Nespresso.

…but, absent some sort of empirical data clearly stating otherwise, I don’t think that’s the truth. These people, from a marketing standpoint, are not the same people at all. Their motivations are completely different from mine. Paramount in their decision on what coffee to buy and how best to prepare it, is the concept of convenience.

When James says…

Ultimately my point is this: Nespresso and K-Cups success clearly demonstrate that people are happy to pay more for coffee. They are happy to pay a lot more. Their enormous sales volumes are solid evidence of this. I don’t think we should be angry about how much they charge, unless we’re directing this at our own failures to reach that price point despite having better product. One could infer that Nespresso’s success implies we’re way too cheap.

…I say, no, they aren’t. They are willing to pay more for convenience. But not for quality.

I don’t think that most of the bemoaning of the K-cup or the Nespresso is jealousy over how much money these companies are making but instead, is probably disappointment over another instance where quality is once again losing to convenience, that convenience is still paramount in the mind of the mass-market consumer over and above anything else. They’re shaking their head in disbelief.

Where I think James is correct, is that while frustrating, the success of Nespresso and K-cup is also an opportunity to learn how to hone the message of quality over convenience. It’s tempting but ultimately ridiculous to ridicule these people for purchasing what they purchase based on my motivations. Because they are not the same motivations at all. Convenience is not what I’m buying when I look for my next coffee or, for that matter, when I’m looking for the next anything I plan on opening up my wallet for and putting into my body. But I’ve had difficulty getting that logic across, even at a personal level. I’ve been mocked and ridiculed as being a patsy for preferring quality over convenience. I can’t be the only one. If it’s this difficult at the level of one person to another, it must be that much more difficult at the retail level.

I think convenience is at the root of many of the current food issues of today. At least, maybe, convenience’s far too lofty place in the decision making process of what we produce and what we eat. Convenience is overrated. Convenience is an economically, environmentally, and socially insidious concept. We’ve been trained in it’s importance. It’s going to take some time to unlearn it.


7 thoughts on “Hofmann and the Nespresso

    1. “3rd Wave”. I know. Something about that phrase, though. Just irks me. “Movement” too. They’re too much. Too serious. This coffee thing, love it though I do, isn’t saving the world or anything. Anywho, just me.

  1. I can’t say that I agree with James’ statement. People really aren’t happy to pay more for coffee. If I honestly walked up to someone & tried to sell them a pound of poor

  2. Thanks Daniel! (continue) quality coffee for $50, I would get ran out of town. Customers aren’t told up front that they are spending that amount for the coffee pods. If they were, those over-priced pathetic excuses for a coffee brewer wouldn’t be selling like hotcakes. Instead they market the device as being a money saver being justified by comparing the price of the pods to a local coffee shop. The quality doesn’t come close most coffeehouses.

    Should roasters start looking at Organo Gold’s system too & take note? Both products share a couple common bonds: bad quality & ridicously overpriced. Totally not cool.

  3. The question of “what is quality?” is really at the forefront here. If your exposure to espresso is Peet’s/Starbucks/*.chaincafe, the shot produced by Nespresso IS a quality product, relatively speaking.

    And there are more of those people out there than those who have regular access to an independent cafe who are doing things with ultimate quality in mind (which, I’m afraid to say, is well short of “most coffeehouses”, at least in my part of the US)

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