While the Italian coffee world, from north to south, is experiencing a moment of deep crisis (there are 10,200 bars that in 2021, according to data available in March 2022, disappeared from the registers of the chambers of commerce), the whole sector is held back by the yoke of a too low and therefore unfair price per cup. In Italy there is actually a psychological threshold that cannot be crossed, a price that is considered culturally correct, which is around 1 euro per cup.
However, the approach to the lowest price is a boomerang for both merchants and consumers. He is convinced of it Davide Cobelli, National Coordinator of the Specialty Coffee Association (Sca) Italya reality that brought together the main players in the Italian coffee market around a round table, on the occasion of the recent World of Coffee 2022 fair.
A quality product that loses value
“For Slow Food, there is a formula where a drink must be good, clean and fair. That it is therefore endowed with an organoleptic quality, pleasing to the palate and ultimately at a reasonable cost to those who produce it,” he says Emanuele Dughera from Slow Food. In many cases in Italy, however, a poor quality coffee is drunk at the bar, leaving an unpleasant burnt taste in the mouth and causing stomach upset. This is why unnecessary sugar is sometimes needed where there is a quality mixture. We are far from good coffee, which instead requires attention to composition, professionalism and constant research.
Espresso in Italy is a popular product, but precisely because of this it has also lost value. The need to never go up in price, and therefore to sell a product below cost, leads to hard compromises, which invalidate the final quality of the product and lead to a supply chain that is never as impoverished as it is today.
“The cost of producing a cup of coffee is higher than the cost of producing a bottle of water, yet the bottle of water is sold in the bar for 1.50 euros without this creating a commotion among consumers” – he comments Davide Cobelli. The preparation of a good espresso, on the other hand, requires quality raw materials, adequate training, professional equipment and a lot of care. Education, in particular, has a decisive role, because as it underlines Luigi Morello, President of the Italian Espresso Institute, the 25 seconds it takes to brew a coffee can destroy all the work done before. “It’s not like wine, it’s not enough to pick it up, coffee is a product that needs to be refined. All these elements have a cost that cannot be compressed and debased within 1 euro per cup.”
A discount cycle with harmful consequences
The price of an espresso in Italy has been unchanged for a decade now, while everything around is now in constant and slow growth. In fact, keeping the price of espresso low means first of all putting the baristas in difficulties who, at this price, cannot guarantee a fair salary to the staff and are forced to choose low quality blends, with repercussions on an entire sector that therefore adapts to the disadvantage ..
How can a business manager reduce complexity?
IS Omar Zidarich, Chairman of GITC, to jokingly explain the mechanism that lowers the quality of the product due to the rush to the bargain price. “When we sell coffee, we rely on quantity, without worrying that the distributor is forced to buy as much quantity as possible, without thinking about how quickly he will dispose of what he has bought. Who wants to say that coffee on the last day after expiry is as good as the one just sold? No”.
The roasters make discounts on the larger quantity, the distributors play the role because they know that on the other side they will find traders who, driven by the wishes of the consumers, will want to spend as little as possible to keep the price per cup lower and lower. In short, an ugly vicious circle, the one that binds the coffee supply chain, in what was once the home of quality at any price.
Solution? To return the right value to coffee
The Italian espresso is traditionally a mixture of different origins, with a mixture that maintains the same organoleptic profile over time, but in some cases, a voluntary lack of communication, serves to avoid explaining the low quality of the mixture used, therefore this remains limit of communication to consumers of non-traceable and qualitative products. “The perception problem is determined by the lack of information: in many cases the consumer does not have it, and this prevents him from understanding what he is paying for.” summarize Stefano Tiberga represents Codacons.
“We still lack a lot of awareness, when it comes to coffee there is still a lot to do, teach and learn. For too long in Italy, coffee has been drunk when you “throw it down” without asking many questions. A habit that has ruined both the market and the tastes. Now the Consumer is more curious, demanding and therefore we are facing a Barista who considers this drink important and wants to offer it well. CSC selects specialty coffees selected and controlled for over twenty-five years, guaranteeing traceability and excellent properties. And so thanks to roads like this, we will no longer want to pay for bad coffee. I started doing it myself, with difficulty, but if it’s not good, I send it back.” – comments Paola Goppion.
The consumer is therefore poorly informed e struggling to understand the value of a good espresso. The solution is therefore to better communicate the product and its diversity, describe all the different phases in the supply chain and the reasons behind a slightly higher cost. An informed customer, educated to the good and balanced taste of quality coffee, becomes a more demanding consumer but also more aware of the economic value and impact on an entire sector of what he tastes. “We say yes to the quality and spread of coffee values. Espresso has to be paid at the right price and in no part of Italy we can prove it, 1 euro is sustainable today for a cup of excellent espresso coffee, but not even of average quality.. Always ask yourself why the price is so low that it is a bargain and not why it is so high, he concludes. Davide Cobelli.