October 3, 2022

How can coffee roasters attract new wholesale customers?


For many roasters, one of the biggest challenges they face when scaling their businesses is finding wholesale customers. Strong competition from larger, well-established roasters – who often have better access to more equipment and resources – can make it difficult to establish new working wholesale relationships.

However, many smaller roasting businesses can overcome this hurdle by following a set of best practices when connecting with potential wholesale clients. By equipping themselves with the necessary skills and resources, they can successfully draw in new wholesale customers – helping to scale their businesses and drive sales.

In this article, we explore how roasting businesses can successfully attract new large-volume customers and develop mutually-beneficial partnerships.

You may also like our article on cost management tips for smaller roasters.

A man pours wholesale roasted coffee beans into a grinder hopper

What should a roaster-customer relationship look like?

Although a large majority of a roaster’s sales come from ecommerce platforms and in-store purchases of retail coffees, many roasters also have partnerships with wholesale clients who buy larger volumes of roasted coffee. These are often coffee shops and other businesses which serve coffee beverages.

In many cases, these customers are one of the most effective ways to quickly generate revenue and improve profitability. However, working with wholesale customers comes with its own unique set of challenges – often forcing roasters to quickly adapt to their needs and demands.

There are certainly some key services which roasters are required to provide – mainly ensuring that coffee quality is maintained to a certain standard, for instance.

However, every wholesale customer has their own specific needs, which means roasters have to provide specialised solutions to each client. For example, some customers may need to know more about where roasters source their green coffee from, as well as how sustainable the supply chain is.

Furthermore, understanding what kind of coffee the customer wants is essential. Some wholesale clients may require more dependable products, such as blends or more traditional-tasting coffees, while others may prefer more exclusive lots or experimental processing methods.

Staff education and training is also another service that roasters can offer wholesale customers, including workshops and cuppings. Through these sessions, roasters can provide more information about their coffees, as well as teaching skills to wholesale clients’ teams. In turn, roasters can ensure that the quality of their coffee is maintained to the end consumer.

Similarly, roasters can also host cupping or tasting sessions with coffee shops’ end customers to help improve their brand and share more knowledge across the supply chain.

Ultimately, the roaster-client relationship should be mutually-beneficial, and both parties should offer each other more than just sales and coffee alone.

However, this raises an important question. How can roasters find new wholesale customers, and where should they look when doing so?

Man cups coffee for wholesale customer initial pitch

Setting up an initial meeting

For roasters, a first meeting with a prospective wholesale client needs to be more than a presentation of their business. Ideally, the initial meeting must be as interactive as possible and show why both parties are a good fit for one another.

In order to maximise their time as much as possible, roasters should create a plan that covers the meeting from beginning to end. For example, prior to the meeting, roasters can learn more about prospective customers. One way to do so is by asking a number of questions to assess client needs, such as:

  • Which beverages are on their coffee menu? 
  • What food do they serve? 
  • Which coffees could work well with their menu
  • How much do they charge for coffee and is there an opportunity to charge more for higher quality?
  • Which factors do they value the most in a coffee supplier? 
  • Are there any challenges they face when serving coffee? 
  • What types of coffee do they like? – including origins, processing methods, and roast profiles.

Once the roaster has gathered all the necessary information, it can be a good idea to then set up a tailored follow-up sales pitch, which can include a suggested selection of coffees which they think meet a wholesale client’s requirements.

After pitching these coffees, you can also prepare yourself to answer any further questions in a clear and direct way. It’s important that prospective clients understand things like C price fluctuations and unit cost, and how they will affect price margins.

Many successful roasters say if their price margin requirements don’t align with the customer’s, the best option is to not take them on as a client. Ultimately, this provides roasters with an opportunity to reassess their sales pitches and the coffees they offer – allowing them to potentially improve their business and follow up with the customer at a later time.

a man dialling in espresso at a coffee roaster

Introducing yourself to potential customers

While the concept of cold calling potential customers that roasters have no previous relationship with may seem inappropriate, it is a common sales strategy and can often be successful.

However, it’s important to remember that the goal of a cold call is not to make a sales pitch, but to simply introduce the business and request a meeting or even set up a cupping. It’s also important to be concise and respectful of the customer’s time, while still making it clear why you would be a good fit.

Lead generation and setting up initial meetings can be one of the most challenging and frustrating parts of the sales process for roasters. 

With this in mind, roasters could benefit from a number of other lead generation strategies. Networking at local coffee events, visiting local coffee shops, and speaking to hospitality businesses are all effective means to meet new prospective customers.

Another useful – albeit more costly – sales pitch is to send coffee samples to potential customers. However, this rarely results in longer-term partnerships, and typically requires significant effort and time.

Woman roasting coffee for wholesale customers

Avoiding common sales mistakes

Naturally, sales can be a precarious aspect of any coffee business – largely because customers have a number of varying needs and requirements, which might not always align with the products that a roaster has. That said, there are a number of common pitfalls to avoid. 

To start with, never agree on a price that isn’t sustainable for you in the long-term. Although it can be tempting to offer a lower price to secure a sale with a client, this could prove to be costly and challenging in the long run.

Moreover, raising the agreed price after a partnership has been established can create tension between the roaster and the customer – even placing the wholesale client in a difficult position with prices for their customers. 

Establishing a price floor and ensuring there is price transparency along the supply chain is one of the ways in which roasters can avoid these issues.

Alongside prices, make sure you also don’t commit to supplying volumes beyond your capacity. Be realistic about the volume of coffee you can provide; don’t overpromise and underdeliver.

The same principle goes for offering regular cupping or staff education sessions – doing so may only be feasible with a smaller number of customers. Similarly, providing deliveries with increasing regularity can be difficult as you scale, so keep that in mind.

Selling coffee is the primary aim of any roaster, but it is often the area of the business that can create the most challenges – especially with wholesale customers. Despite this, there are many ways for roasters to optimise their sales strategies to achieve the most successful results.

Although every sales pitch might not be successful, it provides roasters with an opportunity to reflect on where they can improve.

By following the advice of successful roasters, smaller coffee businesses can develop the right strategies for them to scale and attract wholesale customers.

Enjoyed this? Then read our article exploring how coffee roasters can diversify their income.

Perfect Daily Grind

Photo credits: Folly Coffee Roasters

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