August 5, 2021

Changing your business’ coffee strategy after Covid-19


As of August 2021, more than 4.2 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered around the world. While exact numbers vary heavily from country to country, a way out of the pandemic is becoming clearer and clearer – meaning there is a roadmap to recovery for the global hospitality sector. 

Over the past 18 months, coffee shops, foodservice businesses, and restaurants alike have been forced to close their doors and stop serving customers through the pandemic. But as they reopen in some parts of the world, it’s clear that the post-pandemic hospitality sector is a different landscape.

So, what can businesses do? How can they adapt to the new situation and change their coffee strategy to win mind share with customers? To answer these questions and more, I spoke with industry experts from UCC UK. Read on to find out what they said.

You might also like our barista guide to a successful shift.

Staff Working Behind Counter In Busy Coffee Shop

Why is it so important to adapt as the hospitality sector reopens?

The past 18 months have seen a number of key consumer habits shift. Before the pandemic, it was estimated that out-of-home (OOH) coffee businesses made up approximately 25% of total consumer demand for coffee. However, in early 2020, it was estimated that as many as 95% of these businesses closed their doors.

In response, consumers changed their coffee habits in one key way: they started drinking much more coffee at home. For example, recent reports from Nielsen show that the sales of roast and ground coffee in the UK increased by over 22% in 2020 compared to 2019.

But it’s not just the quantity of coffee being consumed at home that has changed – it’s the quality, too.

Frannie Santos-Mawdsley is the Senior Marketing Manager for UCC UK. She says: “Premiumisation within foodservice is a trend we’ve seen for years now, but in coffee it has definitely been expedited through the pandemic. 

“As the coffee shop market has grown, consumers have formed strong opinions on their favourite beverage. With these shops closing, customers have turned focus to [home consumption], hoping to emulate the out-of-home experience in-home.” 

As consumers have spent more than a year and a half drinking more and more coffee at home, it’s understandable to think that these newly-ingrained habits may take some time to shift – especially if public health and safety remains a concern after businesses reopen. 

Phil Smith is the Head of Insight at UCC UK. “There is definitely going to be a long-term impact for the roast & ground sector,” he says. “I think it is going to be a positive one, with consumers switching from the instant category to a ‘real’ coffee category.” 

There will also be no shortage of competition; many businesses have taken this time to reflect, plan, and change their strategy to win more customers when they reopen.

“In 2018, 68% of consumers surveyed agreed the quality of coffee was important to their decision making,” Frannie adds, citing a survey by OMNE and CGA. “That number increased by 15% in November 2020; an impressive 83% are now conscious of quality, showing the importance of maintaining standards when the market reopens.”

a flat white coffee on a wooden table

Changing your coffee strategy

So, as hospitality and customer-facing businesses around the world start to reopen, coffee shops included, it has become more important than ever to adapt.

Many businesses in the coffee sector have already adapted by capitalising on the uptake in online sales, takeaway and curbside orders, and delivery. However, further differentiation will become necessary to thrive in the post-pandemic marketplace.

But what changes can café owners make?

Change your coffee & focus on consistency

Firstly: look at changing the coffee you offer.

For coffee shops, this could mean replacing and “refreshing” old products you’ve offered for years, or bringing in new additions to your menu. Speak with your roaster or supplier to find out if they have new coffees available.

“Make sure your coffee matches your offering,” Frannie recommends. “Choosing your blends and coffee brands carefully can have a huge psychological impact for your customers and helps define your overall positioning [in the market].”

For cafés, offering a broader range of coffees can help you communicate your expertise and understanding. In contrast, restaurants and foodservice businesses might want more “traditional” flavours to complement or pair with certain menu items.

Consistency is also important. Customers want to know that the coffee they’re drinking will continue to taste just as good every time they try it.

Partnering with a supplier who is known for providing consistent quality will help to differentiate your brand and win market share.

Frannie adds that it’s important to adapt based on your specific positioning in the market.

“If you are a high-end FSR restaurant, you might want premium, high-quality coffee that complements your food,” she says. “In contrast, a chain coffee house may benefit from a bespoke branded white-labelled coffee you can sell over the counter, so your customers can enjoy your signature flavour at home. 

“Finally, companies who want to champion their sustainability agenda may want to consider a coffee like Grand Café with fully compostable packaging and Rainforest Alliance certification.

“At UCC Coffee, we have a unique Total Coffee Solution model, with bespoke and scalable solutions for world-class equipment, smart servicing, exceptional coffee, and a data-driven approach to coffee excellence through our COFFEEWORKS programme.”

a barista grinding coffee into a portafilter

Maintain, change, or replace your equipment

No matter how good your coffee is, it won’t matter unless you have the right equipment. Damaged, dirty, or poorly-maintained espresso machines, grinders, and batch brewers can all alter the cup profile of your coffee and stop you from offering the best possible flavours to your customers.

“Following the pandemic, customers’ perception of quality has changed, so ensuring your equipment and training match is vital to ensuring your customers keep coming back,” Frannie says.

Ahead of any major reopening, make sure you check your equipment. You may find that an extended period of time away from the coffee bar has caused it to degrade. 

Espresso machines should be regularly deep cleaned to prevent calcium deposits, overheating, or other malfunctions. Similarly, you should regularly brush or wipe down your grinder (a toothbrush works wonders) to remove any residual oils, as these can cause off-flavours to develop if not addressed.

If your premises have been closed for an extended period, make sure you set aside some time to clean your equipment before you reopen. If it doesn’t seem like something you alone can do, then consider calling the distributor or manufacturer to arrange a technical service.

However, it’s also important to recognise that maintenance and cleaning can only do so much. Eventually, your equipment will unfortunately reach the end of its lifespan – and any extended period of disuse might make this especially noticeable. At this point, it’s time to upgrade.

“When it comes to coffee equipment, there’s a lot to choose from, so you need to find the right machine for your operation,” Frannie says. “[Choose equipment] that’s perfect for your site, your team, their skills, and your long-term coffee ambitions. 

“Buying a machine is a big investment, and there are many variables to consider before purchasing, but getting it right is absolutely critical to defining your positioning.”

Different businesses will naturally have different needs for their equipment, however.

Let’s take espresso machines as an example. For most coffee shops, a traditional or semi-automatic machine will be the right fit to make sure the barista has the perfect amount of control. 

However, for restaurants or other foodservice brands, an automatic or super automatic machine may be more suitable. These types of espresso machine can produce consistent coffee beverages at the touch of the button 

Ultimately, automated machines – and automated equipment more widely – can help coffee businesses grow by simplifying processes, streamlining recipes, and providing a more consistent offering for customers.

Frannie says: “For smaller businesses, there are plenty of highly affordable ‘box-only’ solutions on the market, which UCC’s Collective Members can guide beginners towards. UCC also offers plenty of free videos on cleaning and maintenance.”

She also notes that their Total Coffee Solution model is “fully flexible”, and says that it can be tailored to custom setups for larger coffee businesses.

Consider your design

Differentiating your business in a saturated market after Covid-19 doesn’t start with the coffee you serve or the machine you use to brew it, however. It starts with your brand.

Before customers choose to walk through your doors, you need to win mind share and grab their attention. The best way to do this is by having a clear, refined brand identity and an appealing design.

Taking the time to redesign your space before you reopen can give customers a reason to step inside. Think about the values you want your business to communicate, and see if you can translate that into your coffee shop’s design.

By redesigning your space, you can also make sure continue to be compliant with local Covid-19 regulations. A redesign can help you implement one-way systems for customer foot traffic and easy pick up points for takeaway food and beverages, for example.

Retraining or refreshing staff & baristas

After months away from the coffee bar, you may find that your team benefits from some hands-on time before you reopen to customers.

Scheduling “refresher” training sessions with baristas can make sure that everyone is on the same page as far as beverage preparation and quality control are concerned.

Try and get every staff member in at the same time too, even if only for a few minutes. This will give you the opportunity to explain how things have changed with local Covid-19 regulations – and any key changes they need to be aware of.

For instance, you can show the team how customers should move through the shop, how often specific touchpoints should be disinfected, and point out if you’ve made any key changes to service.

Make sure you listen to your staff, too. Reopening in the midst of a pandemic – no matter how much progress has been made – is likely to be a stressful experience for everyone. By making your new systems clear and allowing them to air their grievances, you can make sure your staff are as prepared as possible.

a barista pouring milk into coffee

The Covid-19 pandemic has indelibly changed the way that people brew, serve, and drink coffee around the world. But as we look ahead to a future beyond the novel coronavirus, it’s important that hospitality businesses prepare themselves.

Set your business apart by changing your coffee offering, upgrading or servicing your equipment, considering your brand, and retraining staff where necessary. Preparation is key – and it will help you thrive in a saturated post-pandemic market full of fierce competition.

Enjoyed this? Then try our article on café design.

Photo credits: UCC UK

Please note: UCC UK is a sponsor of Perfect Daily Grind.

Perfect Daily Grind

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