• The Northern European specialty market

    The Northern European specialty market is part of the world’s largest market for coffee. Europe’s total imports are double those of the United States. But the great concentration of buying power in the hands of very few roasters has not made it easy for small producers to add value through improved quality, or through promotion in Europe. This is mainly because their production is deemed insufficient to be considered for sale as straight origin coffee, but also because specialty coffee in Europe is a true niche market in a continent where much good quality coffee is already readily available.

    The true specialty target segment consists mostly of real enthusiasts searching for something different, rather than large numbers of people who are disappointed in their daily cup of coffee as was the case in the United States.

    The entry of Europe’s mega-roasters into this field demonstrates that they appreciate its potential. Competition between them and smaller specialty roasters will probably limit the latter’s potential market more than has been the case in the United States, where until fairly recently the large roasters did not have any ‘quality’ to offer.

    In many European countries the opposite applies and both sides are therefore targeting more or less the same niche market, with large operators benefiting from economies of scale the smaller ones cannot match. The establishment in 1999 of the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe, www.scae.com, was therefore an important innovation in this somewhat uneven playing field. By the end of 2010 the SCAE had approximately 1,450 members in 77 countries, so not only in Europe, and had established 31 National Chapters. It now organizes regular trade shows, training events and competitions, and offers a growing range of member services.

    Exporters should note that the area to be covered is vast, with hugely varying quality preferences. Smaller producers in particular will almost certainly have to depend on specialty importers or agents to access the European market efficiently.
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