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Bellwether Coffee helps coffee retailers adapt to current climate

The global coronavirus pandemic has hit retail and hospitality industries around the world hard, with the United States one of the worst impacted countries. Many coffee retailers in particular have had to either close up shop or navigate through new delivery and pick-up options.

Commercial coffee roaster manufacturer Bellwether Coffee took immediate steps to support both current and new customers. This included offering financial assistance programs, and for new customers, Bellwether will cover two months of payments for leases and purchases of its roasters installed May through July.

“In an effort to support coffee retailers as they seek to pivot business models nationwide, by quickly creating delivery or take-out options and e-commerce stores, Bellwether wants to make roasting on-site a viable investment,” Bellwether Coffee CEO Nathan Gilliland says.

“At Bellwether, we’ve been with customers through these changes and have been watching their success closely due to on-site roasting with their Bellwether roaster. Shops that have signature roasts are largely protected from potential supply chain disruptions – they don’t have to rely on outside sources to obtain their roasted coffee product. Roasting in-house also allows businesses to roast on-demand, minimising inventory risk.”

Bellwether has taken several other steps to prepare its teams and customers to work through COVID-19. The company hosted a webinar with senior staff about how to apply for government aid and how to shift to e-commerce – both topics which were important to assist its current customers.

“We created a blog on our website dedicated to resources to help get through these tough times, and we’ve been using our platform to promote our customers who had online stores to provide some exposure and drive traffic to their shops,” Gilliland says.

“Internally, Bellwether staff have been ordering coffee from our customers as often as we can. We’re not immune to the economic impact of the pandemic but we feel a responsibility to contribute however we can.”

Like most businesses, Bellwether Coffee had to drastically change its day-to-day operations, with almost the entire company working from home. For those deemed essential, whose work relates to supporting staff and customers, Bellwether says it’s done everything it can to create safe working conditions.

The Bellwether Coffee commercial coffee roaster was developed to allow cafés and retailers to roast their own coffee instore. Gilliland says the ability to do this has kept many of Bellwether’s customers afloat during this period.

“Roasting your own coffee allows coffee companies to generate revenue online and through wholesale channels, which can be the difference in surviving or closing for many businesses,” he says.

“It also means you don’t have to depend on another company to supply your coffee, many of which are dramatically scaling down their operations and may experience closures, price changes, and disruptions in service.”

Bellwether has also published several resources on its website to help its customers grow their coffee business, ranging from creating a wholesale coffee business to selling coffee online and digital marketing.

“Our staff have dozens – maybe hundreds – of combined years in the coffee industry, and we’ve compiled all the resources we’ve built over the years. We’re sharing the products and practices we’ve tested and approved for building and growing a coffee business,” Gilliland says.

“We’ve made it as easy as possible to start a coffee roasting business from scratch, right away. Since our roaster doesn’t require construction, permitting, gas lines, or special training, you can be roasting and selling coffee as soon as the roaster is delivered. We also send kickstart production kits to all new customers to get them started on their retail packaging operation, and we offer as much training as necessary on wholesale sales and online retail.”

Gilliliand says many businesses underestimate the power of their own brand to resonate with their customers.

“A lot of businesses tell us that they fear that their own brand of coffee won’t have the same draw as the wholesale coffee brand they’ve aligned themselves with, which we find over and over again isn’t true,” he says.

“Customers overwhelmingly respond positively to self-branded coffee and house-made offerings. People will not only continue to spend with you, they’ll often spend more, and do it more frequently.”

Gilliland adds that lockdowns and restrictions have highlighted inefficiencies within many existing supply chain operations or opportunities for revenue that have been lost. The Bellwether Marketplace, accessible through its roaster, lets retailers purchase green coffee direct from Bellwether and “remains a price-competitive source for exceptional coffee”.

“Our expert profiles that come with every coffee ensure that no coffee is wasted trying to dial in a new roast and can be roasted, packaged, and sold right away,” Gilliland says.

“Our smaller box sizes allow businesses to only buy what they need at a time, instead of purchasing whole-bags of green coffee which can tie up significant liquid cash. Buying smaller quantities lets a business stay nimble and lean, while two-day shipping eliminates the fear of running out.”

With takeaway, delivery, and drive-through making it difficult to maintain customer service as  a unique selling point, cafés and retailers need to find new ways of building connections with their customers.

“There’s no substitute for hospitality, but you can extend your same principles of customer service to the way you develop an online or takeaway business. Ask yourself ‘what do my customers need right now and what don’t they need?’ and ‘what am I uniquely suited to offer that no one else can’ and let those questions/answers guide your offerings,” Gilliland says.

“Coffee shops are like extended family to their customers, so if there’s a creative way to continue connecting with your customers, they’ll appreciate your authenticity and the connection will pay off when doors are open again.”

While the reality is that not every business has the capacity to stay open or continue investing in their business at the moment, Gilliland says those that can will be better setup for the future.

“So many coffee companies are family run operations, and our families are taking a catastrophic hit from all sides with the economic crash and disruption of their routine,” he says.

“There is no prescription or guide book for how to get through this, but there are some measures that can help a business flex to meet the challenge, and those will also help strengthen their core operation when business is back to normal as well. Anything a business does to increase and diversify revenue, tighten its expenses, negotiate better terms with suppliers, and recapture as much of their margin in profit versus overhead, will help them stay successful in the long term.”

He says Bellwether offers businesses the tools to generate more revenue, keep more money per pound for the coffee they serve, and strengthen their financial independence moving forward.

“Any business that serves coffee can benefit from roasting that coffee themselves on a Bellwether. That includes restaurants, corporate campuses and cafeterias, grocery stores, and hotels. The hospitality industry is deeply linked to the coffee industry, and the Bellwether Roaster ensures that every business in our ecosystem can roast and thrive,” Gilliland says.

“The coffee industry is resilient and innovative. The changes we make now to adapt will only strengthen our ability to weather future disruptions including those that may result from warming temperatures and rising prices. Consumers will continue to enjoy coffee, and we will be better suited than ever to serve it to them in creative ways.”

For more information, visit www.bellwethercoffee.com

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