My colleague Steve Thomas and I attended the “Caffé Culture” show at London’s Olympia Conference Centre on Tuesday 23rd May. The show was aimed at those in the Café and Coffee Shop industries. I was attending to see how the various products, services and technologies on show could change or enhance the customer and employee experience.
At Cambridge Consultants, we work on a large number of Beverage Technology products and the aim is almost always to offer new beverage experiences, or improve the existing ones. As the focus was coffee shops, and not home appliances, this falls within what we call our “Commercial Products” offering; products and services that are bought by businesses to enhance their customers’ experiences and the efficiency and happiness of their staff.
The first thing that struck me, as I walked into the show, was the décor. Distressed wood, concrete and brushed metallic finishes were all around; on the products and on the stands. The place screamed authenticity and craft (maybe a little too stridently). This look was accessorised by the army of bearded and tattooed baristas, café owners and coffee aficionados roaming the show. These people were at the show to be part of the trade in the coffee itself. The levels of artistry and skill on show were impressive.
Also impressive were the range of cakes, snacks and other related items to complement the coffee. Everything (and I mean everything) was targeted with marketing material extolling its wholesomeness, authenticity and, in one case, morale fibre (I kid you not).
Even some of the equipment targeted at coffee artisans had touch points and details in distressed or rough finishes. One machine manufacturer had chosen to relaunch (with some updates) their original 1950’s era grinder with manual controls and boiler-plate styling. If I’m brutally honest, they failed to carry through their idea and the interesting details were not echoed by the overall design. This can mean your customers don’t understand your product and…in the end, only a design geek like me probably noticed their idea.
In stark contrast to this part of the show, was the high tech element. There was a lot of technology on show. Many of the professional coffee machines had touch screen interfaces and futuristic styling. The main overt technology on show was probably around payment systems of various sorts. Tablet screens with simplified interfaces for busy workers and enhanced payment systems to improve customer experience both had multiple stands.
The Good Till Company had an elegant EPOS solution that streamlines payment and other customer interactions, all in an classy presentation that sits well in high-end retail outlets. Good focus on their customer needs and driving the design to deliver it meant those visiting the stand understood the value immediately.
The Scanomat Topbrewer system was the best example at the show of technology offering a new customer experience. The integrated system (which has been out for a few years) allows technophile customers to select and customize their drink from the adjacent touch screen, or even via an app on their own device. Better suited to a workplace than a café, it would speed up the process of getting the drink you want significantly and is certainly a very different experience to a traditional coffee machine. The equipment itself sits below the bar and can grind to order from several different bean hoppers. It is also designed to reduce operator complexity, with a single, swap-out grinder/brewer assembly. All this allows the visible part to be a simple tap.
Need I add that the Topbrewer tap is an elegantly simple swan neck in brushed metal, surrounded by slightly rustic block wood countertop. If you want hipster authenticity, you better hide the technology driving it well.
It was, as always, fascinating to see how others have tried to use new technology to enhance their products. The contradictory desire of customers for hipster charm, authentic experiences and digital simplicity gives the coffee shop world a particular stimulating challenge.