Re: Disruptive Innovation

 This post is in response to James Hoffmann’s post Disruptive Innovation.

JH posted earlier today about innovation, and it’s import, and the distinction between incremental and disruptive innovation. If you haven’t read it, please do! His return to the Internet is a boon to us all.

Near the end of the post, JH says:

It is more depressing to think that a more obvious disruptive innovation is the whole single serve thing.  It is easy to point out the flaws – it doesn’t taste amazing, it is expensive.  It is proving that this stuff doesn’t really matter to the market.  Maybe we’re going to continue to ignore it, while it may slowly make what we do increasingly obsolete.  No one is going to argue that vinyl doesn’t sound better, but it doesn’t do much to change the fact that this matter less and less to people, and technology is catching up all the time.

While I am generally in agreement with JH, I have to admit that I differ in opinion regarding the growth of the single serve coffee brewer. I agree, the fact that they generally do not produce very good coffee (good meaning; tasty, enjoyable) is pretty depressing, especially coupled with their explosion of popularity. It’s rough to see sub-optimal coffees riding the wave of a growth market.

Besides the bad coffee part (which is a big part), I am actually excited for the disruptive innovation that the K-Cup Revolution has brought. The way I see it, three of the major obstacles to exposing our friends, family, and customers to better coffee has been thus;

1.) Good coffee is expensive.
2.) People like to brew a whole pot of coffee at once.
3.) People will generally prefer convenience over quality.

Keurig and their ilk have done those of us in the specialty sector a huge service, and I believe that in the future we will owe them a word of thanks; because they have (perhaps unintentionally) lead their customers (who are also potentially our customers) to a place where they will pay more for coffee than they ever have before (taking care of #1), and they will brew it one cup at a time (#2). These are things we have been trying to convince our customers to do for a long time.

#3 is still a problem, as the attention required to produce a solid V60 brew will never compete with the simplicity and convenience of a Keurig machine, nor will a Chemex ever have your coffee ready for you when you rise in the morning, as even the simplest Mr. Coffee will. But, I do think that the growth of high-end automatic coffee makers (I’m thinking specifically of the Bonavita, here) is great news for us. The Bonavita is consistent and convenient, and can produce coffee that is worlds ahead of any K-cupand is far more familiar and intuitive to our customers than the mysterious V60 (or whatever).

I figure if our end-goal is to sell and drink great coffee, in the long-term, if we keep our wits about us, the single-serve K-cup may have done us a great service, if only by opening our customers’ minds to paying a bit more, and enjoying only one cup at a time. And that’s not depressing at all!

– SAO

* I don’t have any financial connection to the Bonavita folks, they’re just the only high-end machine I have experience with.

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