News & Views

Opinion / Back to Reality?

by Contagious Contributor

Research consultant Sean Pillot de Chenecey turns to local coffee shops for lessons in authenticity  

Time passes quickly in TrendLand, and already CES in Las Vegas seems so… last month. The coverage of all things #TechFuture related seemed slightly forced this year – bordering on desperate. Ladies and Gentlemen, whisper it quietly but we need to get back to #TrendZero, the wonderful world of authenticity.

And if Vegas is about as far away from authenticity as you can get, then perhaps a good way to start reconnecting with everyone’s favourite trend (alongside that other key slide in every agencies deck titled ‘Brand Purpose’) is to take time out in a cafe. Which is exactly what I’m doing, as I sit in one, back in Brighton, on the south coast of England.

While idly reading the newspaper, waiting for the members of the Brighton coffee-obsessive ‘48 Club’ (membership test: ‘hiding from the office?’) to arrive for their daily shot; it strikes me yet again how a huge amount of brand activity still feels completely disconnected from day to day life. (Emerging/forecast or otherwise.) By contrast, cafe-retail, living as it does in ‘reality’, reflects trends that clearly have to connect.

A superb example of a company doing it like it should be done are Falcon Coffees; a local outfit who trade coffee from over twenty producing countries, to roasting companies throughout the world. Their purpose being ‘to build Collaborative Supply Chains for mutual profit and positive impact.’ For them, authenticity isn’t something to be faked in tech-land, but is intrinsically linked to a core product truth which in this instance means ‘coffee as a human story, passed hand to hand, from seed to cup’.

Brighton is of course an easy place to look for ‘Where Next?’ when it comes to cafe trends as it has more independent cafes per capita than anywhere else on this side of the Atlantic. (According to The Guardian, research by the University of Stirling has shown that the city’s residents now consume the most coffee per head of any place in the UK). A leading-edge example being Silo ‘designed from back to front, always with the bin in mind’ who use a pre-industrial food system, where, when it comes to achieving a zero carbon delivery system; aim to source non-native products such as green coffee beans, red wine & cacao sailed in with only the wind as energy. (Yeah, I know it sounds a bit full-on, but hey, why not?) As an example of how they promote this, linking with the Institute of Inspiration, one of their recent screenings was ‘No Impact Man’. And if this grabs you, they’re currently seeking crowd-funding…

Meanwhile, the UK’s leading independent chain Small Batch Coffee Co recently won plaudits for their own film The Origin filmed in Brighton and on location at their suppliers in Mexico. (Re: CSR, they support the global charity drop4drop.) Other great examples include Emporium (based in an old Methodist church, with a theatre hidden away at the back to the main room), to Marwood’s (who’ve just opened their latest superbly – and aptly  named cafe Presuming Ed) and Bond St, who always ethically trade and source from privately owned farms and co-operatives of small hold farmers around the world, then roast the beans locally. Beat that, Vegas.

All of these issues and more are bought together in A Film about Coffee. This beautifully shot production  which no doubt a healthy percentage of the Contagious readership have seen – follows the production of coffee from farms in Honduras and harvest in Rwanda to its global consumption; alongside interviews with various industry experts in Japan & the US. It weaves a fascinating story of how the cortado served up in Tokyo or Portland actually gets to be in hands of the bearded hipster in the Sharon van Etten t-shirt.

In doing so, the film links a load of the real-life trends that we all know so well: authenticity, transparency, sustainability, ethics, community, etc. A world where transparency means more than CES fakery, and a triple bottom-line involves building wells delivering fresh drinking water for remote communities.

And it’s these types of issues that the concept and product innovation teams looking to CES 2016 might bear in mind. Key problems being heavily discussed in the tech-forums and presented to delegates at the show over the last couple of years have been so unrealistic as to be virtually pointless. Perhaps more time spent seeking inspiration in cafes would be a time well spent…