Coffee roasters are all rebranding right now. Why?

  • The past decade has seen a sweeping wave of rebrands for both small and large roasters in a bid to stand out in the crowd
  • On average, most businesses undergo a brand refresh approximately once every 7 to 10 years
  • For roasters, this is becoming more frequent as they try to stay relevant through heightened competition and attempt to appeal to a wider market

AGAINST A backdrop of growing mainstream popularity, brand image has always been an important differentiating factor for the specialty coffee segment. But recent years have marked a notable surge in rebranding efforts among roasters of all sizes.

Inflation has forced businesses to tighten their belts across the board, and market competition has intensified. This means that roasters need to find ways to stand out in the crowd, and a rebrand is a competitive way of doing that.

On average, most businesses undergo a brand refresh approximately once every seven to ten years, aiming to keep their identity modern and relevant for their customer base. Given the relatively young age of the specialty coffee industry, the rate at which its companies rebrand is understandably higher than other sectors. 

Today, increasing costs and heightened competition call for more frequent reinvention that will keep brands relevant to secure market staying power.

The last decade or so has seen roasters large and small modernise their identity and imagery – starting with Starbucks in 2011, who simplified its iconic logo. In 2020, Peet’s Coffee underwent a comprehensive rebranding, unveiling a new logo, packaging design, and brand messaging. 

Between 2018 and 2020, a string of small (but prominent) artisan roasters followed suit, including Blue Bottle Coffee, Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Intelligentsia Coffee, Counter Culture Coffee, and Four Barrel Coffee – almost like a chain reaction to keep up with the new trend.

At the same time, consumer demand for green products has increased. Compounded by more stringent legislation related to sustainable enterprise, this has prompted many roasters to adopt compostable or biodegradable packaging. Some have used these changes as a platform to reposition their brand entirely. 

A total rebranding means changing the brand’s entire visual identity and, in some cases, brand name. Such updates may well be costly, but it is a one-time cost – rather than the continued increase to operating costs represented by “chasing” higher-quality micro lot coffees time and again.

The emperor’s new clothes 

Rebranding has emerged as a strategic response to a demand for differentiation and relevance in an overcrowded market. 

In a saturated market and the specialty coffee industry’s obsession with innovation, there is a never-ending cycle of coffee roasters choosing to rebrand. The market has matured, and value propositions like single origin or fancy fermentations no longer make the cut. This ironically exacerbates the problems of over-saturation and competition even further. 

Meanwhile, struggling with the impact of inflation, many roasters have had to change how they source coffee, buying at a lower price point and shifting more to blends than single origins. A brand refresh helps to shift the focus elsewhere and stay relevant.

It’s an investment, but changing their appearance is often less costly than product innovation or continuing to source higher-priced coffees.

Innovation has long been a central tenet of the specialty coffee industry. If brands are unable to keep up with the competition at product or business model level, a clever marketing strategy to grab attention could be just the ticket. It meets consumer demand for something ‘novel’, or unconventional in a way that is less risky, and arguably less costly. 

Done well, a rebrand should have a clear value proposition. 

“In all the changes a brand makes, everything should be clear and understandable. Why the rebrand? What does it provide? What is the potential?” says Vladyslav Demonenko, owner of Kolo Coffee roastery, and 2nd place winner at the 2022 World Coffee in Good Spirits Championship.

“Sometimes it’s not about the money that you spend, it’s about what profit could be potentially made from these changes. The way that I see it, it’s an investment.” 

As the coffee industry sees a higher frequency of rebrands occurring, it likely marks a moment in the industry where many brands are “growing up” – developing notable marketing budgets, and choosing to appeal to broader audiences.

Two Starbucks cups -- before and after rebranding

New marketplaces, new strategies

For many coffee roasters, adopting a new identity has become a key exercise. As specialty coffee has increasingly become more mainstream, and large-scale coffee companies seek to capitalise on their popularity via both imitation and acquisitions, adjustments to brand image feel like a natural next step.

Some coffee roasters have changed their strategies in order to accommodate a wider customer base, embracing blends over micro lots and exploring more convenient means of consumption. In these cases, rebranding may well not be an attempt to innovate without innovating – it could instead be a switch to become more approachable and acquire a larger market share. 

Ultimately, for some roasters, rebranding may be opportunistic, and for others, a commercial decision allowing them to remain competitive in a crowded market. 

Others, like Vladyslav, believe that the investment from roasters in rebranding, although costly, can prove worthwhile in helping brands to be modern and relevant — provided they also take the opportunity to demonstrate their values.  

“It’s a fast-paced game, so it’s important to be on the same page as everyone else – some brands grow organically and become trend leaders,” he says.

“Others try to grab onto a wave of popularity. A successful rebranding will depend on market focus, and understanding your brand’s voice and ethos.The most important part is to react fast and make the right changes at the right time.”

Ultimately, this rebranding frenzy among roasters is fuelled by market saturation – and roasters are often compensating for cutting corners on quality in challenging economic circumstances.

A brand refresh serves as a strategic pivot point, signalling to consumers and competitors that the roaster is still relevant in the coffee landscape, and can help niche brands broaden their consumer appeal, reaching new consumers who care about different things.

Coffee Intelligence

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