Automation helps brands deliver convenience – what does that mean for specialty coffee?

  • The global automation market is projected to be worth over $400 billion by 2030
  • Starbucks will roll out the Siren System to about 10% of its stores next year
  • Automation helps brands meet the growing demand for convenience

CONVENIENCE HAS become everything – and automation is helping brands meet this emerging demand.

Starbucks plans to introduce the Siren System coffee-making system to approximately 10% of its stores beginning next year. The Siren System includes an ice dispenser, a milk dispenser, and faster blenders. It is designed to optimise workflow efficiency, boost speed, and reduce customer wait times.

In a demonstration last year, a Starbucks worker made a grande mocha frappuccino in 36 seconds, rather than the 87 seconds it would take on the company’s old production line.

This at a time when automation is spreading throughout the food and beverage industry and beyond. The global industrial automation market was valued at almost $200 billion in 2021 and is expected to exceed $400 billion by 2030 – growing annually by 8.5% until 2030.

Last month, Chipotle introduced a robotic prototype to cut and peel avocados, aiming to reduce prep time by 50%. The company also rolled out a faster-cooking dual-sided grill in 10 high-volume locations.

Domino’s has embraced automation with various projects. In 2021, they launched a pizza delivery robot car in specific Houston spots. They also collaborated with Picnic Works for an automated pizza prep device. Furthermore, Domino’s established an automated supply chain centre in Indiana, producing dough in batches for outlets across four states.

Some may have considered automation a far-off reality, but companies are actively integrating it now – and this has very real implications.

automation helps coffee brands deliver convenience

What does this mean for specialty coffee?

For a long time, “craft” has been a cornerstone of specialty coffee. However, the way that coffee is being served is changing – primarily in major chains, but progressively among smaller businesses, too.

Automation helps brands meet the rising demand for convenience – which has become the primary consideration influencing purchasing decisions for the majority of consumers.

At least, this is what the evidence suggests. A National Retail Federation study found that 97% of consumers have abandoned purchases because it was inconvenient for them. A different study showed that in the months following the Covid-19 pandemic, up to 80% of consumers prioritise convenience more than before.

Starbucks will put $450 million towards modernising its stores – focusing on adding more efficient equipment, as well as designing more drive-thrus and express store formats.

The fact that Starbucks is allocating such significant resources to automated processes indicates that the company has acknowledged the central role convenience plays in consumers’ purchasing decisions.

In essence, major coffee brands have recognised that customers prioritise price, consistency, and convenience over “hand-made” coffee.

It also means that large coffee companies are not only following the trend towards automated retail experiences – but leading the charge. So what does this mean for other specialty coffee businesses?

Automation generally means being able to produce consistent, cost-effective products. This means valuing “craft” may be at odds with automation’s benefits. Brands holding onto those traditional values of specialty coffee will need to have a strong plan – because the prognosis is worrying.

Whether they like it or not, it may only be a matter of time before integrating some kind of automated coffee experience becomes essential – not only as a cost-saving measure, but also to cater to a growing customer base that increasingly prioritises convenience over “hand-made”.