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January 29, 2011  |  Achieving new levels of coffee  |  8825 hit(s)

In spite of living in Seattle, I don't often get to Seattle's Best Coffee[1], so I was unaware that before Christmas they'd launched a new campaign: their "Level" system. According to a press release[2], they're after "a radically simplified packaged coffee line designed to change the conventions of the coffee category."

The "levels" are basically roasts, with Level 1 being "Mild, light, and crisp" and Level 5 being "Bold, dark, and intense." They say that the level comes from roasting lingo, which makes sense ... in roasting.

Where this sounds odd to me, though, is when they accompany this with their "Find Your Level" come-ons. The problem, I think, is that they don't seem to have accounted for the idea that "level" also means, in non-roasting talk, things like "achievement" and "expertise." (Think levels in a game.) Thus, if my coffee "Level" is 1, does that mean I'm a beginner? And I should strive to move to a new level until I get to Level 5?

To me, it seems very hard to get away from this idea. I bounced this off a couple of people and got basically the same reaction from my limited sampling. Apparently if I were inclined to ever actually buy packaged coffee from SBC, I'd be perpetually stuck in Level 1. Sad.

I suppose it goes without saying that I also don't get what they mean by "change the conventions of the coffee category," but that just sounds like normal marketing hand-waving, where every change in package design is a radical overhaul of the industry. (I think the only company that can probably claim anything remotely like that is Apple, haha.)

Dunno, maybe it's a big success for them and they'll, you know, revolutionize the coffee industry. While I wait, tho, I guess I'll go make myself some more beginner coffee.

[1] Trivium: This was originally Stewart Brothers Coffee (also SBC). And boy, was I ever surprised to find out that they're part of Starbucks, after also being part of Torrefazione. Shows how little I know about the coffee business.

[2] Yet another annoyingly Flash-centric corporate website, arg.

Alan   30 Jan 11 - 3:25 PM

And check out the horoscope like descriptions of 'you' for each level. You beginner types are:

Happily pragmatic, you enjoy the simpler things in life. People love your easygoing spirit. If there were a lot more people like you, we'd hear a lot fewer car horns and see a lot more smiles.


JohnO   31 Jan 11 - 11:50 AM

While I don't think this is good for helping the consumer find what s/he wants, I'll bet it's good marketing. People love to quantify and rank, everything from IQ to your "Sleep Number." So I expect letting people do some bogus analysis of their coffee preference will make some people geeky and happy, while not leaving the others feeling left out.