Coffee Roaster Dilemma: Blend More or Charge More?

Coffee roasters this season find themselves in the midst of making a hard decision which involves guessing how clients will respond to an Arabica shortage. Ultimately, it’s the consumer who will determine whether the right choice was made or not. An article in the Wall Street Journal reported that the dilemma arises out of the shortage in Arabica output due to out-of-season rains in Colombia and Central America.

Thankfully, Brazil’s expected harvest should be large, but it’s still months away. Also, the Robusta harvest from Vietnam was bountiful. So what’s a roaster to do? To keep the prices down, they can blend in more Robusta. This is a problem for the gourmet coffee roasters and their customers, since it adds more bitterness to the coffee and changes the product’s quality. The higher-end coffee roasters are reluctant to do this. But the Robusta price is much less than Arabica’s, so the blend keeps costs balanced.

The article also suggests that they can design a new blend with greater Robusta content and market it as such. The other choice given is just to raise prices to reflect the higher investment on the roaster’s part. Possibly they could even do both, bringing out a new higher content Robusta blend for just this season until more Arabica beans arrive, while continuing to offer the favorite coffees at higher prices. It seems the roasters will have to do this, as they won’t be able to produce the same amounts of the Arabica coffees while there is a shortage.

As consumers, what do you think? Would you be willing to pay a higher price to continue to enjoy your Arabica gourmet coffees, or would you prefer to put up with drinking Robusta blends for awhile until more beans are available, and not see a rise in prices? Quality or price - which drives your coffee purchase decision the most?

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