- What is the SCAA?
The Specialty Coffee Association of America is the trade association for the specialty coffee industry, one of the fastest-growing food industries in the world. Specialty coffee-- sometimes called "gourmet" or "premium" coffee --is grown in the world's most ideal coffee-producing climates and prepared according to exacting standards.
One of the SCAA's primary functions is to set the industry's standards for growing, roasting and brewing. Members of the SCAA include coffee retailers, roasters, producers, exporters and importers, as well as manufacturers of coffee equipment and related products.
At last year's conference, Bob Yellin and Jim Schulman approached me about proposing a session to the following year's committee. You can read our submission below. That's all you'll ever see of it since it was rejected. Perhaps it is vain to think that our first submission would be accepted; I admit being surprised by the bad news. Sure, I've submitted plenty of proposals to conference committees in my own field (Information Technology) and only a couple have made the cut. Still, I thought our unique perspective would pique their interest. Evidently not.
I haven't closely followed the details behind the rough year the SCAA recently experienced. As I understand it, the organization's leader abruptly left and soon thereafter some "financial irregularities" were discovered. Calls went out to the membership to stem the flood of red ink. There may have been staff reductions, I don't know really. Needless to say, the organization's new leadership turned to the formidable task at hand: Restoring the SCAA's reputation and its fiscal foundation.
Years ago, the idea of the cMembership was not warmly welcome in all quarters. Consumers crawling the Atlanta showroom floor asking questions of vendors who'd paid serious amounts of cash for space didn't help. I thought the consumers mixed among professionals at the SCAA conference the following year in Seattle were reasonably unobtrusive. The only complaint I heard about was with regard to Barry Jarrett, who carried around a prototype thermofilter, testing vendors' equipment, and not necessarily asking first. He's a full-credited SCAA member, so his actions don't count as a strike against cMembers.
This year there's no cMember sessions. As a small compensation, Counter Culture Coffee and Home-Barista.com are joining to offer EspressoFest 2006. The conference's locale in Charlotte worked in our favor, since Counter Culture has a training facility there. In addition to our little get-together, I'm hopeful that Barry will throw another altie party (and that I'll be invited).
A coffee professional organization is different than that of other fields. It's hard to imagine anyone but the geekiest of computer geeks wishing to attend one of my profession's conferences. But coffee is loved by millions, and the barrier into a world where others share your appreciation is low. From what I've heard, that was what spurned the creation of the SCAA's cMembership: Tapping the vast network of consumer advocates.
Sadly, priorities have changed.
Enthusiasts, Quality and the Internet: A New Market Opportunity
Roaster/retailers, cafe owners, and sellers of domestic coffee equipment.
Many professionals have become pessimistic about how much, good coffee quality can help their sales. The goal of this presentation is to show how quality-centered marketing approaches can succeed by recruiting enthusiastic amateurs.
In recent years, some roaster/retailers have been able to sell limited amounts of fine coffee at over $40 per pound -- and not just Kona and JBM. Coffee machines costing over $1000 are finding increased sales. The presenters are customers and Internet-savvy voices in this developing high-end market; they know the successful retailers and know the strategies that influence their respective Internet communities.
Those strategies are similar to the marketing of fine dining and wines. The "buzz" that crowns one wine or restaurant does not come from regular customers, but from a narrower group of enthusiasts whose opinions guide the wider public. In the social sciences, this form of opinion formation is called "the two step process of social influence." Coffee professionals can make use of it by making contact with local coffee enthusiasts, while conveying to their wider public that coffee, like fine dining or wine, is a highly rewarding taste experience. With the Internet, such marketing strategies have become much more available.
The presentation will focus on the mindset and preferences of coffee enthusiasts, the strategies of some successful vendors, and how these have meshed to create the new market.
A new market for higher quality coffee and coffee equipment, catering to enthusiastic amateurs and those they influence, is emerging. Meet some of its customers and learn how it works.
Jim Schulman, previously in the controls business, is a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago in sociology. He shares his passion for good coffee, and expertise in home espresso and roasting, on the "coffee-internet." He is a founding SCAA C-member, and serves on its liaison committee.
Bob Yellin, an SCAA C-member since April '04, lives in rural Northern Vermont but was born and educated in New York City. He learned to roast coffee from Bedouin friends during a 13-year period in the Middle East. He was an engineer by profession before retiring in 1990 and starting his own retail business. He is currently an administrator and cupper for a green-coffee-buying cooperative of home roasters known as The Green Coffee Cooperative.
Dan Kehn is a software developer and espresso techno-junkie. When he's not at his real job, he's plugged into the coffee Internet via online communities like CoffeeGeek.com and his own website, Home-Barista.com. His site reviews the high-end espresso equipment market and features advanced how-to information for home espresso enthusiasts.
Jim Schulman has extensive teaching and workshop experience in sociology, writes frequently on coffee matters on the internet, co-led the consumer espresso lab at Atlanta, 2004, and was on the "Reverse Panel" presentations held at Boston, 2003, and Atlanta.
Bob Yellin had considerable experience with presentations while he was VP Sales during his corporate career and has since posted many coffee-related articles on various Internet coffee forums. He was on the SCAA "Reverse Panel" presentation in 2004 in Atlanta and is the main cupper and an administrator/manager of a 550-member coffee buying cooperative.
Dan Kehn has extensive experience in public speaking in the business world as a workshop instructor. His presentation style is dynamic, engaging, and spontaneous. Dan is a software developer by profession, but has also published a best-selling book on programming. Weekends and late weekdays he's writing about espresso and espresso equipment for his website, Home-Barista.com, in addition to moderating on CoffeeGeek.com.
To: Bob Yellin
Cc: Dan Kehn ; James Schulman
Sent: Friday, July 29, 2005 5:38 PM
Subject: SCAA - Charlotte Proposal Status - Enthusiasts, Quality and the Internet
Thank you for submitting a proposal to make a presentation during the SCAA's 18th Annual Conference & Exhibition next April in Charlotte, North Carolina.
During the selection process, the Conference Committee reviewed each proposal in detail. Their task was to choose presentations that address the educational needs of all segments of the industry, while maintaining a balance between general, technical, and advanced subject matter. In addition, the Committee had to work within the space limitations of the Charlotte Convention Center.
Although your proposal, "Enthusiasts, Quality and the Internet: A New Market Opportunity," was not selected for presentation in Charlotte, we want to thank you for your interest in creating an important learning experience for our membership. We strongly encourage you to consider submitting a presentation proposal for our 19th Annual Conference & Exhibition in Long Beach in 2007.
Charlotte, North Carolina 2006