Saturday, October 04, 2008

Roasting Innovations

The success of Starbucks has been explained in sociological terms. More than selling coffee, Starbucks has constructed a new social environment, “a third space” that is neither home nor office, a place ideal for introspective mental activities like reading, writing, surfing the web. Consistent quality control from the decorative palette to the audio selections are superior to other offerings and strictly enforced. The choice of music, for instance, is neither too popular nor too weird, maintaining a culturally interesting middle ground. Appropriately, Starbucks (Barnes and Noble) and its old cousin, Seattle’s Best (Border’s) dominate bookstore caffeination. Ultimately, however, the success of Starbucks and the rise of the $2 coffee is the product. Elite coffees have displaced dominant household brands like Maxwell House or Folgers because they use a Arabica beans rather than Robusta beans, the two are considered as different species.

On a couple of occasions this last month, I was served inferior Robusta coffee at friends houses (even elite coffee drinkers go with the Robusta beans when serving a big party) and didn’t seem to mind them. Faced with fierce competition, they are improving. Folders continues to dominate the household coffee market, but it wants to gain back its lost elite customers. For the last few years, Folgers has been developing a new roasting technique, “the biggest innovation since the launch of decaf.” See Douglas Quenqua, “Folgers Markets a New Coffee to Cost-Cutting Home Brewers,” NYT (Sept. 19, 2008), p. C10. To do so, Folgers has overhauled its factory in New Orleans, while it’s changing ownership; Procter & Gamble has just sold Folgers to J. M. Smucker (the peanut butter and jam makers). Most importantly, they need to change popular perception. So, they are launching a new television ad campaign, designed by the infamous Saatchi & Saatchi agency. In the circles of art, Saatchi is more of a household name than Folgers. Charles Saastchi is a major art collector. It was his 1997 Sensation exhibition that caused not only a sensation but launched the career of Damien Hirst.

Folgers is realistic about its goals in dissuading a snob coffee drinker like myself, who will pay the price for organic and fair-trade. But I will give a try. I suppose, I’m a little old-school about some things. I cannot stand the new plastic coffee cans. This summer, we bought a grill. I was looking for a good-old-coffee can to turn into a cylinder for lighting charcoal to no avail. The good old metal can that you could recycle into multiple household uses has expired as a product of the 20th century. Newly wed couples will not be able to tie up a gigantic Folgers coffee tub behind their “Just Married” automobiles. The metal can warded off evil spirits on its way to a new household. The Saatchi and Saatchi TV aspires to strike some domestic chords through sound (drawers opening, spoons rolling in a coffee mug, the slippers of a man in pajamas squeak), but I don’t think it will succeed in the apotropeic magical qualities of pre-Starbucks Folgers.

1 comment:

Kara Irish said...

What a fun post!

I am glad I stumbled across your blog, Prof Kourelis. I miss your Art/Arch Hist 101/102 classes! I'll never forget dissecting that Nirvana video, or that a seemingly innocent tambourine in a perfectly chaste-looking village scene can symbolize sex... Ha!

Hope all is well with you!

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States