Private Label Buyer Blog

The Calculus of Coffee

August 22, 2013

Over my coffee this morning (K-cup Caribou Obsidian), I ran across a new piece from Bloomberg on the current leaders in the retail coffee game (“Sorry Coffee Snobs, America’s Favorite Is Still Folgers”). Despite the continual diversification of the coffee category, Folgers sits in the No. 1 slot, followed by Maxwell House and then private label. While private label can run the gamut in terms of types and styles of coffee, those top two—Folgers and Maxwell House—are designed to meet the expectations of as many consumers as possible. And they’re winning the game.

And as I perused this news and sipped my decidedly non-mainstream coffee (that Obsidian from Caribou is really quite fantastic…), I couldn’t help but call to mind my old friend Howard Moskowitz, a brilliant individual who infuses product development with experimental psychology. The last time I ran into Howard, he gave me a copy of his most-recent book, “Selling Blue Elephants,” which outlines the process he applied to the reformulation of Maxwell House coffee back in the 1980s in a chapter dubbed “Maxwell House’s Calculus of Coffee.” The methodology Howard applies to this process, something he calls Rule Developing Experimentation, is a strong lesson for anyone who is looking to scientifically help determine strong “liking” of a product across multiple consumer demographics, each with their own criteria for what makes a good cup of coffee (or any product, for that matter).

Our industry continues to see niche segments emerge—avenues that can prove profitable when approached in the right manner. But the grand-slam home run comes from products that can capably multitask across numerous segments of our society.



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