November 30, 2021

Why are themed coffees becoming popular?


As individuals, we all have different interests and hobbies: things we enjoy and spend our free time learning about or doing. And with the rise of white label products, we are seeing more and more everyday products – including food and beverages – tailored towards specific hobbies, interests, and themes.

Coffee is no exception to this rule – which is why we’ve seen recent growth in what we call “themed coffees”. These are coffees that target and resonate with specific consumer groups through their marketing and branding.

To learn more about these themed coffees, I spoke with two individuals who sell them. Read on to find out why roasters decide to offer themed coffees, the factors that go into deciding a theme, and how these can differentiate coffee brands.

You might also like our article on preparing your café for the festive season.

Why are roasters choosing to offer themed coffee?

With every day that passes, the number of coffee options on the market grow and grow. As a roaster, you want to not just offer great tasting coffee, but also a product that appeals to consumers and stands out in the marketplace. 

Erick Kanter is owner of Expedition Roasters in New Jersey, USA.  He explains that in order to differentiate themselves, some roasters choose to offer a themed coffee or line of coffees. 

He says: “The most common factor we see is that a roaster will bring their love of a genre, theme, or idea into their line of coffees.”

According to him, certain genres resonate with more people than others. He says that one of Expedition’s most popular products is “horror-themed”.

“For the most part, all of us got into coffee roasting because we had a love or passion for coffee,” Erick says. “It’s then only natural to try and bring your other passions into your coffee line.”

Augusto Carneiro is owner of Nossa Familia Coffee in Portland, Oregon. He says that when roasters offer a themed coffee, it is often underpinned by other passions. 

Nossa Familia, for instance, most notably offers a coffee which is targeted at cyclists.

“What has worked for us is choosing something we are authentically passionate about,” Augusto says. “It flows easier and the ideas come better.”

As such, when designing a “themed coffee”, Augusto notes that the roaster should make sure they are passionate about whatever theme they may be considering.

He says: “There’s a risk if someone is only trying to keep up with a fad. Let’s say there’s a fad and someone says we need to capture this market share… let’s say motorcyclists. 

“If you aren’t into that community, I don’t know if that will work. My advice is to work with something you are passionate about.”

expedition roasters coffee

Getting your themed coffee to resonate with an audience

Offering a themed coffee line comes with its own unique challenges. One of the main challenges that a roaster may encounter is getting your chosen theme to actually resonate. 

If not, you could end up alienating some customers by going “too narrow” and focusing on a theme with too small a market. 

Erick says: “When we pioneered the themed coffee experience, we did what we knew and loved. You have to choose a genre you know well; and something that will resonate in the design of the final product, from the outward style of the bag to the beans inside. 

“Adding little elements that a true fan of the genre will instantly recognise is important, but at the same time you don’t want to leave casual fans scratching their heads.”

Choosing a theme that meets this “sweet spot” that Erick describes important. However, this is where both marketing and brand identity become important, as both tools help you clearly communicate what your theme is all about.

nossa familia coffee

It’s all about marketing

Ultimately, if you launch a themed coffee, it will only be as successful as the marketing campaign behind it. 

When offering a themed coffee, you’re presented with a unique opportunity to develop a much more targeted branding strategy, with an existing niche or theme that you can capitalise on. However, the branding needs to communicate not only what your theme is, but also your mission and what your coffee is all about. 

How you approach your marketing will depend on whether you are creating a new brand or adding a line to an existing brand. Erick says that the latter is preferable if your brand is particularly targeted or niche.

“You can really create a strong overall theme and feel by starting a completely new brand, but it can also limit your future options,” Erick says. 

“Instead, if you’re just adding a line to a current brand, it can help bring in new customers if the market is there. If not, you can move on to another genre to try in your lineup and shouldn’t hurt your overall brand if it doesn’t work out.”

Augusto adds: “There can be a fear if we focus on only one theme we’ll miss out on another broader customer base. 

“But our Full Cycle roast has worked well for us, even for the market beyond the theme – people that aren’t cyclists still just love the coffee.”

Erick also warns that the specificity can limit growth and scalability, especially if you’re going “too niche”.

Erick says: “By working in a niche genre you are definitely able to target a specific audience and know what they want. However, at the same time, this may limit your audience growth, especially for brick-and-mortar shops.”

At the same time, Augusto notes that even with a themed coffee, you don’t always need to have your marketing focused on the theme alone. He says he’s found success in marketing not just a theme, but also weaving in details about the coffee itself. 

He explains: “I don’t feel like our marketing around Full Cycle has been extremely strong or one-sided on the cycling theme. Full cycle has a dual meaning: direct trade and cycling. When we talk to coffee shops and bakeries and promote our Full Cycle signature blend, we talk about the origin, farm to cup, how it performs with milk, and so on.

“The benefit is it’s more broad, but at the same time, when it is more focused, we can still do a good job of attracting a niche market.”

expedition roasters coffee

Finding and refining a voice for your theme

Another important part of offering themed coffees is finding and refining the voice for that theme.

What does your theme communicate? Are you advocating for a cause? Are you bringing awareness to a certain hobby or lifestyle?

Before you get started, you can bring all of these questions together with one focus. Ask yourself: what is the one thing you want your consumers to know about your brand and theme?

Erick says: “Pairing your whole brand or just a specific line or coffee with a cause can help promote awareness for that cause and hopefully do some good. We started our business as a ‘coffee for a cause’, aiming to give back a portion of our overall sales to animal rescues. 

“We’ve continued to add more causes, which include veterans’ and children’s charities,” he adds. “We hope we’ve helped change a life through these, and also inspire that change in the hearts of our customers. You can do what you love while also doing some good.”

As for Augusto, he agrees, noting that their Full Cycle coffee allows him to “focus on what’s important” – including direct trade and better transparency at origin. 

He says: “Themed coffee helps you focus, and as long as it’s authentic – meaning you or someone in the company is passionate about the theme – it has potential.” 

couple drinking coffee

Themed coffees are continuing to grow in popularity in the marketplace, whether they’re grounded in a hobby, a social cause, or something else.

Augusto shares some final advice for anyone considering adding themed coffee to their offerings. He says that whatever theme you choose – don’t forget the coffee. Quality is still important.

“Above all else, the coffee should taste great,” he concludes. “If you are doing a themed coffee but you’re banking only on the theme, using really cheap coffee, it probably won’t work. 

“Choose a theme you are passionate about, and make sure the coffee honours the cause by making it great!”

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on a brief history of marketing in the coffee sector.

Photo credits: Expedition Roasters, Nossa Familia Coffee, Unsplash

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