Any natural progression of a coffee company is that they start to sell their beans in grocery stores and other retail locations. This is a great test of the market and I am very motivated to see how my coffee is received outside my friends and family.
Coffee, at the end of the day, is a commodity, which makes it very hard to differentiate yourself on the open market. Our core differentiator is that we only sell beans that are both fair trade and organic. This significantly limits our supply because so few beans less than 10% of coffee beans are certified fair trade organic. However, it is important that we take a stand for farmers who chose to only grow organic crops and want to be paid a fair wage. Communicating that value proposition has been easier than I originally thought but that may just be because our home market is the Bay Area.
Targeting Grocery Stores
Finding grocery stores was easy to do but the actually selling to grocery stores was a lot harder. I had a list of 23 local grocery stores, 4 regional stores and 8 national stores in a 40-mile radius. My goal was to target the local stores first, then move my way to the national stores.
Admittedly I don’t have an eye for packaging or design and that shows through in the coffee bags. The immediate feedback I got when dropping off samples and talking to coffee buyers is that the bags are “too crafty” which is 100% true. The bags are crafty, plain, underwhelming and I am not happy with them, but this was the best I was able to do with the resources I have at my disposal.
While I got great feedback on the coffee, the packaging was an immediate deterrent for getting my great tasting coffee into the stores and is something I will have to work on in the near future.
The problem is how do you know what is the best way to package your brand moving forward? There are literally billions of iterations that one could chose for their packaging. How does one choose the exact look that best fits their brand? I have no idea and I don’t feel like I will ever have an idea. I feel like it is something that I will never be satisfied with.
Partnering with Grocery Stores
Once the phase of dropping off samples and communicating my value prop was complete, I was able to get a couple orders from two grocery stores in San Francisco. It is funny, I dropped off samples across the Bay Area for a week straight and the two stores to pick up my coffee were within a few miles of each other.
Getting Ready to Sell
There were two things that I needed to do before I was even allowed to sell coffee in stores; get a barcode from GS1 and have insurance that covers up to $1,000,000 in liability. Luckily the insurance part was covered through the insurance provider who I use for the coffee trailer but GS1 is a whole different beast in itself.
GS1 is a non-profit that develops and maintains global standards for barcode generation. Essentially they are responsible for generating all the barcodes in the US and a large majority across the world.
Getting a bar code to not be obtrusive on the package, and still be functional is harder than one would have imagined. The reason why one cannot make a bar code smaller or bigger is because the point of sale system scans the space in between the black lines of the barcode. If the barcode is any small or bigger, then it will not be properly scanned in the system. Luckily the bottom of the bag is big enough to hold a large barcode but it is something I need to work on with the new packaging.
Overall I feel like I did decently communicating my value prop and closing a couple accounts but there is still a lot of work to do. Immediately I understand that the coffee was well received but the packaging is needs to be better and I will work hard over the next few weeks to get that worked out.
The good news is that the pipeline is still strong and online sales are picking up. I got my first re-order which is exciting and helps validate what we are doing here. I have never been so passionate about something and we will continue to work hard to make organic coffee the normal here in the Bay Area.