Big Brother or Helping Hand? this topic was debated in the comments of my last blog written in response to a couple comments in a recent news article. This concept of electronically marrying the product to the dispensing machine struck a bit of a chord with many. Most see it as a hindrance to free enterprise but I think the picture is larger than this.
If, as a potential coffee shop owner, you decide you will need Dewe Egbert's in your shop for the volume their popularity brings and they are willing to sell to you then the agreement is a mutual benefit transaction. If they feel control over the prep of their coffee protects the brand they may set a certain minimum level of hardware the shop must use. Bad grinder + bad brewer/extractor = bad coffee.
If the shop owner has a row of Mazzers and a 3 group La Marzocco then the conversation leaves the equipment and moves on to other details. If the owner is in the planning stage and has no equipment yet then the appeal for a turn key operation with the stipulation that the shop uses only the supplier's coffee (the coffee the shop owner wants in the first place) then it is like free money for the new start up.
A year later brand X salesman says " sell mine - it tastes like theirs and is cheaper. Now orders to the supplier start to shrink even though the shop is doing good business. They have seen it happen enough to know what is going on. Can brand X rep give a Mazzer or two? Not at the margins they operate on. Will their coffee always "taste the same"? Not likely. Will brand X take the hit or will customers associate the drop in quality with the brand being marketed on the equipment the supplier provided?
I see it more as quality control than a Big Brother scenario since protecting the quality of the coffee in the cup is the lifeblood of the supplier. The equipment lending is a safeguard for this quality. Can a larger supplier come in and add their grinder? maybe, if there is room or if the original supplier is booted out (not likely if their sales are strong enough to be giving away Mahlkonig K30's and K60's). Sure, every one selling coffee might not find a chair at the table, but this happens for every product sold in a retail environment where space is a premium.