Why You Probably Won’t Find Our Coffee At Your Local Supermarket.
Are you aware how much amazing coffee there is out on the market today, and how accessible it is? There are roasters like us all over the country roasting delicious coffees that are leaps and bounds better than that you might find on a grocery store shelf. So, you might ask yourself, why can’t I find a lot of this really good coffee on the shelf of your local Kroger, Publix, Albertson’s or Wegman’s. Why can’t I buy Batdorf & Bronson at my local supermaket? I know I’ve wondered that myself at times. Well, it’s actually simple and complicated at the same time.
The primary reason is, it’s awfully hard to maintain the integrity of a fresh product when you lose control over it. Once a grocery store purchases a roaster’s coffee, they are free to leave it on the shelf as long as it takes for that bag to be sold. That could be a couple of days, it could be a month, heck, I’ve seen coffee a year or more old from major specialty roasters. The grocery store is not going to discard the coffee just because it’s old, after all, they bought it and need to recoup their money for it. This is the main reason specialty coffee retailers don’t position their coffees on regular grocery store shelves.
Now, there are scenarios where it does happen, and is successful. At Batdorf & Bronson, we sell in local Whole Foods stores, and handle it like this: we deliver it, rotate it, and take old coffee of the shelves ourselves. We put our roast dates on the bottom of our bags (as roasters should), and encourage our customers to look for roast dates. At Whole Foods, customers who buy our coffee can be assured it’s fresh because we handle it ourselves. But, there are only 7 stores in our immediate area. There are 50 Krogers in our area here. There would no way to monitor that successfully. At smaller gourmet or specialty grocery stores, it’s much easier to manage.
One more reason is, that grocery store coffee can be a real scent wonderland, beckoning folks towards the scent of hazelnuts, chocolate, and Irish Cream, and because flavored coffees are always located immediately next to non-flavored coffees, there are opportunities for the aromas to permeate the bags and affect the carefully roasted single origin coffee you are paying $15.00 for. And that brings me to another reason why you don’t see a lot of specialty coffee in grocery store shelves. Grocers like to get the coffee at the lowest prices possible (ex. WalMart), and this drives down prices which makes someone in the middle lose money, either the farmer or the roaster.
It can also be a challenge to have your coffee (priced at $15-$20) next to coffee that’s $5 a tub, or $8.99 a bag, because it’s not really apples to apples, it’s more like apples to crabapples. With no real context, specialty coffees can seem overpriced. Without a real education to average coffee consumers, they won’t know or understand the price difference, and alas, the coffee will sit on the shelf even longer. Which is one reason I view my job as so important, I don’t want coffee sitting on shelves, I want it being enjoyed every morning. Educating customers as to the difference between an $8 bag of Folgers Gourmet Roast and a $15 bag of Batdorf & Bronson Guatemala Finca El Valle is something I take joy in, and that moment where they taste the difference is something that motivates me daily.
So, the next time you wander through your local grocery store and wonder why you can’t find your favorite local roaster on the shelves amidst the Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks Coffee, Folgers, and Green Mountain, you’ll now better understand, and consider it a good thing, actually. Besides, we all know that the best place to buy fresh roasted coffee is your local, independent coffee shop, because along with the whole bean coffee you’re looking for, they’ve got a nice cup of fresh roasted and fresh brewed coffee waiting on you!