The Consumer's Proclivity For Branded Coffee

March 14, 2018
Research shows coffee consumers choose brands over taste.

There is a considerable distinction between coffee and branded coffee. What is the importance of branded coffee? Does branded coffee taste better? According to those drinking coffee, it does. Consumer research also shows that coffee packaged, or labeled, with familiar, popular brands does better in the marketplace against unlabeled, generic or lower value coffee. Packaging acts as the “silent salesman” because its purpose is to attract consumers to purchase the product. A brand is a product’s identifying mark and/or name, signifying it was made by a particular company under a particular name. The brand’s packaging conveys to consumers the purpose of what the brand stands for and what it means for them (the consumer). Because of this, the product’s package — the brand that represents the product inside — is almost as important as the product itself.

How branding makes a difference 

Consumers’ motivations, responses and taste experiences in regards to coffee are greatly influenced by their brand expectations and assumptions, according to a study done by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA). This means consumers choose the brand they prefer, regardless of quality, because of presumed expectations and assumptions about that brand. This connection between the consumer and the brand is very strong, and it guides not only their personal preferences but also their buying decisions.

Branding has an impact on sensory perception from a neuro-scientific perspective, and therefore on buying preferences. In order to learn more about the role of the brand effect, neuro-marketing researcher Imane Bouzidi of Copenhagen Business School created a behavioral study of consumers’ preference towards four coffee-chain brands with the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA). Bouzidi examined the correlation between brand and consumer motivation to choose one particular brand over another. The study featured a well-known international coffee brand and three national coffee brands, and was conducted with a representative sample of 122 randomly chosen participants aged 20 to 40 years, equally distributed between male and female living in Denmark.

This is the way the study was presented, or “branded,” to the respondents. In reality, the four branded samples contained only two different types of coffee — high and low quality — roasted by a local coffee roaster. Low quality coffee was signified as such because it was significantly cheaper. High quality coffee was a medium roast. The respondents were presented in chronological order with two high quality coffees and two low quality coffees which were then reversed in order to optimize the gathering of statistical results. Through sensory and statistical analysis, research found that motivation and taste experiences were greatly influenced by brand.

The science behind it: Motivation 

The neuro-science comes into play with a consumer’s motivation to choose branded coffee. Motivation can be conscious and also unconscious. The conscious part of motivation is “liking.” The unconscious part is “wanting.” The study was broken down into three measurements based on conscious and unconscious motivation: 1) brand pre-assumptions and associations — measured liking, 2) amount of coffee consumed from the samples — measured wanting, and 3) the final measurement of sample coffee consumed and preference: relationship of wanting versus liking. The third step assumed that the consumers’ pre-assumptions would be connected to their final brand of choice, and that they would prefer the taste (“liking”) and consume more (“wanting”) of the high quality than the low quality coffee.

The study showed a clear connection between the level of brand equity and consumer preference. In other words, consumers preferred the coffee that was labeled with the brand they preferred, regardless of the taste. This showed that motivations, responses and taste experiences are largely influenced by brand expectations and assumptions. The study also showed a strong connection between liking and pre-assumptions of a particular brand that guided the respondents’ preferences.

Brand perception 

What was surprising in this study was that low quality coffee was preferred over high quality because of the brand equity. People’s brand perception and the equity of that brand completely influenced their perception of the quality of the flavors of what they were perceiving. People actually had a preference for low quality because it was branded, familiar  and comfortable. It’s important to note that quality doesn’t sell itself. Brand perception is a key element of sales. There’s only so far you can take someone as far as complexity in coffee.

The research results illustrate the importance of investing in brand perception. Developing trust in the brand is very important for the consumer. How is the brand connected to quality? Connect the brand to the consumer, and align the brand to what the consumer wants and needs. The biggest factor that consumers use to choose their coffee is still flavor, but after that is social media. Getting a brand out there and knowing what people want is crucial. Consumers also want good feelings around their coffee. People want to feel comfortable with their coffee.

What this means for micro markets and OCS is that it is beneficial to show the branding along with the coffee. The quality of the coffee won’t stand alone, especially among the employees who don’t see the frac pack label and are just refilling their cup out of a pot or thermal. Therefore, to take advantage of the premium product being offered, it’s important to add branding back into the space. One easy way to do this is to upsell the location on branded cups. This is due to consumer recognition of branding. Consumers will be more likely to drink a certain brand of coffee simply because the label on the cup assures them that they are indeed consuming the promised quality drink. What helps consumers trust products are reassuring and familiar brand labels.

Move from being instinctual about coffee to being thoughtful. Measuring behavior is a fundamental aspect. The reassurance of familiar branded coffee with signs, cups and displays is the kind of brand equity that consumers respond to. Brand awareness and perceived quality reflect the neural mechanisms that stimulate the conscious liking and unconscious wanting systems that influence consumer preference. Consumers like and want more coffee with better branding.