- Prosumers are active participants in the coffee industry, often with significant market influence
- Major espresso machine brands have taken note and are investing heavily in the segment
- For example, Breville has purchased prosumer espresso equipment manufacturer, LELIT for €113 million
BLURRING THE traditional lines between “professional” and “consumer”, prosumers are individuals who seek to replicate a professional coffee experience at home. However, the grey area prosumers have historically occupied is becoming more defined – and it is an increasingly relevant space for espresso machine manufacturers.
Prosumers are heavily involved with the product. They often use semi-professional and complex equipment, which often includes features intended for a largely professional context. However, their involvement goes beyond consumption – they are becoming increasingly involved with product development.
One example of this is a history of prosumers inventing their own fit-for-purpose products. For instance, the Scace Device was created by then-prosumer Greg Scace (who has since started to develop espresso machines in a professional capacity).
This is a great example of how prosumers are becoming active co-creators within the coffee industry, rather than passive recipients.
Participation in specialised online communities and forums is another defining feature of prosumers. Platforms such as Home Barista provide a space to ask questions, share opinions, and receive feedback on products they have created.
More generally, the rise of the coffee prosumer has coincided with the proliferation of social media. Prosumers often post opinions and reviews on YouTube channels, Instagram, and other popular platforms.
Their role as content creators has become crucial. In some cases, prosumers can generate their own following, establish themselves as brand advocates, and ultimately become market influencers.
As a result, major espresso machine brands have made them a priority – harnessing their power to shape consumer preferences and drive market trends.
Strategic investments in the prosumer market
The pandemic fueled an increase in at-home consumption, but some consumers weren’t willing to compromise on the quality they had come to expect from their local coffee shop. This led to a new wave of lockdown prosumers who sought to elevate their coffee experience at home.
“People couldn’t go to their favourite coffee shop so they started searching online looking for how to make their coffee at home,” says Laurent Lefevre, marketing and products manager at Home Barista, Belgium. “They found information on coffee forums and then searched for the tools online.”
The US at-home coffee market was predicted to grow by 4.9% in 2020, a higher rate than the previous five years. This represents a broader global shift towards home brewing.
In response, we’ve seen brands start to take note. Major espresso machine brands have invested heavily in the prosumer market. For example, De’ Longhi announced in 2021 that it would increase its stake in La Marzocco – a leading espresso machine brand with a portfolio of prosumer products.
Breville Group has also recently strengthened its market position, acquiring the Italian-based prosumer specialty coffee group LELIT in March 2022.
As such, major espresso machine brands have made strategic investments in the prosumer segment. This trend became abundantly clear at this year’s Specialty Coffee Expo in Portland, where prosumer espresso machines backed by leading manufacturers had a significant presence.
Carving out a new segment
While the prosumer market has gained ground in many coffee-consuming countries, there are still many regions where high-quality home brewing is less established.
This doesn’t mean the prosumer trend won’t catch on in the future. Many regions may represent untapped potential for espresso machine brands hoping to replicate the success they’ve had in European and Northern American markets.
For example, India has an established culture of at-home coffee consumption, largely grounded in instant coffee. However, as India’s middle class grows, many global companies are patiently waiting for consumption patterns to shift so they can capitalise on this growth with a range of premium products.
In some cases, we could consider the growth of the prosumer segment to represent a future decline in footfall for third wave coffee shops. What remains to be seen is whether or not they’ll be able to adapt – many roasters and coffee shops already did this by pivoting to ecommerce during the pandemic, for example.
“People go to a specialty coffee shop and try new tastes and flavours, then they ask the roaster how they do it, and get the information on how they can make it at home,” Laurent says. “They want to repeat the flavour at home, so roasters provide the information and the right tools.”
Espresso machine brands have become increasingly responsive to prosumers’ needs – developing new functionality and more popular features to keep this new consumer segment interested.
For example, Laurent predicts a future trend in the prosumer equipment market will centre around single dosing – as consumers seek to minimise wastage of expensive specialty coffee beans. “Specialty coffee is expensive so they want to be conscious and waste as few beans as possible,” he says.
The opportunities in the prosumer market are clear to see for many. With a growing number of consumers willing to invest in a premium at-home experience, we can now see an entirely new market segment emerging.
It’s no surprise that in response many major machine manufacturers have redirected their attention and investments. What brands will now watch for is whether or not this trend will continue amid cost of living increases and high inflation figures in major consumer markets.