The monthly subscription model has done wonders for all kinds of commodities: clothing, cheese, wine, and even international snacks. It was only a matter of time before coffee of the month clubs gained some traction.
So what is a coffee subscription box or a coffee of the month club? It’s a lot like it sounds. A customer signs up online with a coffee retailer or roaster to have coffee delivered to their door every month. Or at whatever interval they prefer. One lucrative trend is for the coffee delivery subscription to cover a niche—a trade coffee subscription or a coffee bean subscription for hikers and campers.
That’s the short version. The long version is the rest of this post. First, we’ll look at the three ways to structure a coffee subscription service. Then we’ll take a high-level look at how it works and what most coffee businesses today need to pull it off.
But before we do that, let’s first look into why a monthly coffee subscription business model is particularly well-suited to coffee drinkers today.
Why Coffee Subscription Boxes Make Sense Now
Over the last 10–15 years, the “third wave" of coffee has cemented it as an artisanal food to be enjoyed critically like wine or cheese. And a big part of enhancing that enjoyment is digging deep into coffee’s origins, cultivation, processing, and roasting, and exploring how all those variables alter coffee’s sensory experience. The more you know about coffee, the richer the experience is.
That heady approach puts premiums on quality and variety. Equipped with a solid understanding of coffee, people can now fully appreciate the massive array of unique coffee bean cultivars and production methods. As demand for high-quality varieties of coffee grows, growers and roasters have leaned into it. The result is a retail and wholesale coffee landscape that rivals any other artisanal scene in its level of enthusiasm and expertise. Couple that with the fact that 79% of Americans prepare coffee at home, and that’s why coffee delivery services are successful.
A coffee club membership wouldn’t be viable during the 80s or 90s when the majority of the public was content with Folgers. But now folks are ready and able to explore individual coffees with keen eyes and discerning palates. There’s a huge opportunity for the coffee roasters or retailers ready to slot in and deliver it. And using a coffee subscription service is one of the easiest, most convenient ways to do it.
The Three Types of Coffee Subscription Service
We know there’s a market for quality and variety, and we know subscription models work. So what are the most common kinds of coffee subscription? Well, what kind of coffee subscription box a customer gets depends on how adventurous they are or how broad their taste preferences are. Here are the three most common types.
Note: Coffee consumers tend to buy 12-ounce bags at a time, so that’s the standard unit size in coffee subscription boxes, though 2.5- and 5-lb. bags are also often available.
Monthly Coffee Subscription 1: The Chosen Box
This is the option for either the most risk-averse customers or those with the strongest preferences. The customer controls everything. They’ll select the items to be included in the box and request it be delivered at set intervals. Usually that’s monthly, but many services allow for customers to bump up that frequency to biweekly or weekly.
Example: A customer who loves your Corsican dark roast gets 12 ounces delivered every week. Same time, same channel.
Monthly Coffee Subscription 2: The Mixed Box
This option includes what the customer chooses, then includes a few extras that the customer didn’t choose. Extras that will surprise and delight, ideally! This is a really great way to introduce customers to items in your catalog that they’d otherwise never discover. It’s also a happy medium for coffee drinkers between coffees in their comfort zone and coffees with brew methods, cultivars, or roasts that they don’t know they love yet.
Example: A more adventurous customer who loves your Corsican dark roast orders 12 ounces of it, but also 12 ounces of your rotating roast of the month, delivered bi-weekly.
Monthly Coffee Subscription 3: The Mystery Box
This option is for those who throw caution to the wind—to a degree. Customers who purchase mystery boxes are excited and prepared to get whatever roast the retailer or roaster sends them. But it’s usually within some theme. The theme can be roast level and the customer receives only light or only light-to-medium roasts. The theme can also be growing region, flavor profile, price point, single-origin or blend, or any other characteristic.
Example: A customer who likes light roasts orders the light-to-medium roast coffee subscription box and, once a month, they receive three or four 12-ounce bags of coffee that they’ve probably never tasted but that fit within their preferred roast level.
How Do Coffee Subscription Services Work?
There’s another thing about coffee subscription boxes—beyond catering to the wider desire for more and better coffee—that make them perfectly suited for 2020 and beyond: they live 100% online.
That makes coffee delivery service a great revenue opportunity for any coffee business. Even B2B suppliers and wholesalers that don’t typically sell directly to individual consumers. That’s because you don’t need sales reps for it. You don’t need any additional products. You’re simply repackaging and reframing your existing products.
Here’s how it works:
- A customer visits your website
- They end up on the landing page for your coffee subscription service
- They choose the coffees or boxes they want (bonus points if you integrate a coffee quiz that can pinpoint their preferences)
- They choose a delivery interval
- They input delivery and payment information and confirm
- The coffees arrive as planned
Given this, there are two primary things to get a coffee subscription service up and running: the ability for customers to transact online and packaging.
The primary component of any successful coffee subscription service is a reliable, easy-to-use ecommerce platform. Most coffee shops and roasters with coffee subscription services pay monthly for the ability to use third-party software to power the buying and selling experience on their website. By using this kind of software-as-a-service, or SaaS, model, coffee businesses can get an industry-leading ecommerce platform without having to invest lots of time and money into website development and design.
Once the backend of your website is powered by an SaaS-based coffee ecommerce platform, which is nowhere near as complicated as it sounds, you’ll immediately have the ability to promote, sell, and ship coffee.
Once the transaction is taken care of, the only thing left to do is pack and ship. If you’re an existing supplier or wholesaler, not much will change. You’ll be receiving coffee orders just like usual—they’ll just be from individuals and not coffee shops or restaurants. If you’re a coffee shop, you’ll have to integrate packing and shipping into your workflow. Either way, you’ll need to create on-brand packaging.
Think about your packaging layers: outer packaging, inner packaging, and product packaging. Outer packaging is what the customer opens to get at the caffeinated goodies inside. Inner packaging is what keeps the product itself from sliding around. And product packaging is, in this case, the bag the coffee beans are in. You’ll likely not need much help with product packaging.
Customers interacting with businesses and brands through subscription shipments is a fairly passive interaction, so you’ve gotta make it count. You’ll want your packaging to spark joy upon its arrival and create strong associations with your coffee drinker.
Coffee Delivery Service: We Have the Technology, the Time Is Now!
Monthly coffee subscription boxes are, simply, a service that continually delivers high-quality coffee to individuals for a recurring fee. As a business strategy it’s perfectly positioned for today’s coffee landscape for two reasons.
The first reason is our collective coffee consciousness. Coffee consumers’ expectations have largely tracked the shift in the commercial coffee industry. Quality, variety, creativity, and social responsibility are all hallmarks of today’s best coffee roasters and most popular brews. To deliver on that, coffee subscription services can deliver a kaleidoscope of small-batch, craft-roasted coffee beans directly to coffee lovers.
The second reason is the internet. Coffee subscription services, like all other modern boxed subscription services, are researched, discovered, chosen, and modified online. That means you’ll need a top-flight ecommerce solution to power those transactions. BlueCart is one of them, and coffee suppliers and roasters across the country use it daily to streamline and optimize their online transactions. Book a demo and we'll walk you through exactly how.
So, you have most of what you need to open up this stream of revenue: the coffee, the demand, and the opportunity. To get over the hump, all you need is a reliable ecommerce solution and solid package design. Then you’ll find that the recurring revenue generated from a coffee subscription box is many times more valuable than a single online sale, not only from a monetary standpoint but also from a brand engagement perspective.