HOW CONVENIENCE IS BEING TRUMPED IN ONE KEY CATEGORY

A telling observation is made in this week's Supermarket Beverage special report: The beverage category provides one of the few examples of a product line that's being moved by consumers away from being as convenient as possible and toward a form that requires more in-home preparation.Specifically, what's going on -- particularly with coffee -- is that preparation time is actually increasing. In the

A telling observation is made in this week's Supermarket Beverage special report: The beverage category provides one of the few examples of a product line that's being moved by consumers away from being as convenient as possible and toward a form that requires more in-home preparation.

Specifically, what's going on -- particularly with coffee -- is that preparation time is actually increasing. In the instance of coffee, more and more consumers are buying coffee in bean form, then grinding and brewing it at home. And coffee isn't totally unique. There is some consumer movement away from the use of tea bags and toward the use of bulk tea in various speciality forms. The beverage report begins on Page 39.

What's behind all this and what might it mean for other supermarket categories? What's going on with coffee is probably easiest to intuit, and is probably a harbinger of what will happen with tea.

As has become increasingly evident, there has been a slight shift over time away from restaurant dining and toward an increasing number of meals consumed at home. But the restaurant experience is far from gone, and far from forgotten. It's probably the case that as consumers returned to more meals at home, they endeavored to recreate at home the fuller-flavored experience of restaurant coffee, and whole-bean coffee was perceived as the way to do that. That's because many restaurants and speciality purveyors use what amounts to coffee manufacturing, based on beans, as a form of theater. And so, home coffee making has become something of a fashion statement with beans and associated grinding and brewing apparatus becoming requirements for a well-equipped kitchen. It's likely that the use of bulk tea at home will follow the trail blazed by coffee beans. To some extent, this is already happening.

This consumer move opens some obvious opportunities, the greatest of which is that the use of bean or bulk coffee and bulk tea hands supermarkets the chance to establish themselves as destination locations. Supermarkets can increase such coffee and tea varieties, and maybe offer some as store brands. The further opportunity is to give supermarkets a way to move well up the quality continuum with speciality coffee and tea. There are hazards, too: First, ultra-high quality product must be offered. Second, the section must be kept immaculate in appearance. If these objectives can't be met, it would be better to not offer the category at all.

Finally, all this prompts another question: Are there other categories poised for growth as taste starts to trump convenience? There's a question for another week.

Trade Shows

Also in this week's SN, you'll find the annual listing of trade events for the coming year. As usual, the listing shows the great number of events the food-distribution industry has spawned over the years. Indeed, for those who wanted to get the full show and workshop experience, January alone offers 13 major opportunities.

For all of next year, there are nearly 120 events cited in this week's list, sponsored by no fewer than 65 associations and organizations. There will be no lack of activity next year.

David Merrefield VP, Editorial Director [email protected]