I confess. I have a Nespresso machine and I quite like the coffee it makes. But I'm no fan of the Nespresso marketing system, especially in Australia, and I think Nestlé has got it very wrong. Let me explain...
I like to drink decent coffee, but for a long time I lived in a house where I was the only coffee drinker. I've had variable and mostly poor experiences over the years with several home-type loose grind espresso machines; too much or too little coffee, packed too tight or too loose, portafilter leaking, etc. I tried most of the alternatives - drip filters, French presses and moka pots - but found them time-consuming and messy.
So I was an early and eager adopter of the domestic Nespresso machine, having seen and used the hospitality and catering version of Nespresso in hotels and conference centres for some time. But, given the reality of the product and developments in the market, the sheer pomposity and irrelevance of Nespresso's advertising, merchandising and retailing is astounding.
In the home or small office, the main benefit coffee capsule users are seeking is a reasonable cup of coffee, quickly, easily with minimal mess at an acceptable cost, so Nespresso's key competitors are:
- home espresso machines which produce higher quality coffee (using fresher coffee) as long as the consumer can drive the machine optimally, but are messier and less convenient, requiring more maintenance and clean-up
- mid-range outsourced take-away coffee, which is costlier, less convenient and time-consuming, but probably of similar quality
- plunger or filter coffee, which is messier, more preparation and clean-up time, not very practical or cost-effective for single serves
- "premium" instant coffee (a contradiction in terms).
Yet, instead of focusing its positioning and promotion on cost and convenience, Nestlé continues to go on about its "grand crus" and coffee accessories ("Les Collections") and offers a far-too-complex product matrix (see the picture below), with frequently cringeworthy descriptions: Its powerful personality reveals intense roasted notes together with hints of bitter cocoa powder and toasted cereals that express themselves in a silky and velvety texture.
Of course, this is patently ridiculous. No matter how remarkable or distinctive the coffee is when picked and roasted, Nestlé then grinds the beans in industrial quantities in Switzerland and packs it on a huge production line into pods that spend months and perhaps even years in storage, shipping, distribution and retail before the consumer finally places them in a machine to use them. And Nestlé, world famous for its Nescafé instant coffee, simply does not have premium coffee brand credentials.
If I want a great single-origin coffee that comes with tasting notes, I'll head to one of Melbourne's many superior coffee houses and roasters like Proud Mary, Seven Seeds, St Ali, 65 Degrees, etc... At any one of these, I know the proprietor/roaster/barista has a strong personal interest in how the coffee is sourced, roasted, ground and extracted to achieve a specific result and customer experience.
By spouting nonsense and failing to focus on the real benefits consumers are seeking, Nespresso is leaving itself increasingly vulnerable to direct competition. The people behind alternative coffee pod system Caffitaly clearly recognise most potential Nespresso users aren't interested in the wankery of customer clubs and membership cards, Alessi accessories and George Clooney on the Mediterranean. In Australia, official Caffitaly capsules are available from the very middle-of-the-road, mass market brands MAP Coffee, Woolworths and Gloria Jeans.
Even those like me with Nespresso machines are flocking to Nespresso-compatible offers from quality mass-market coffee brands like Piazza D'Oro and Vittoria. Moreover, their coffee is locally roasted and they keep their ranges relatively simple.
So, Nestlé, it's time to cut the crap. They're just coffee pods. Concentrate on what makes your system superior. And sorry George, but that doesn't mean you.