Leading To The Future: Innovation and Your Coffee Business

By William (Bill) M. Murray, CAE, CEO, National Coffee Association

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Despite the fact that coffee has been part of the human experience for centuries, innovation is now a necessity for companies across all sectors of the coffee industry – more than ever before.  In fact, if you search online for “innovate or die” you’ll easily return more than a half a million results.

What are the factors driving this change? How do we approach and address the challenges? How do we focus strategies and resources to adjust for success? And how can individual executives and business owners come up with new ideas?

First, here’s a snapshot of the issues:

Climate Change

2016 was just declared the hottest year on record – for the third year in a row. Will people drink more iced coffee? Will the ongoing impact at origin require you to adjust? Will coffee be grown in Northern New Mexico? Which leads to…


Coffee is now a lifestyle as much as a beverage, meaning that issues such as climate change aren’t just about the practicalities.

Today, larger issues are intertwined with categories and brands. “I drink organic because I care about my health” is a position a consumer may hold even before she decides that your brand offers the organic blend she wants.

Issues from packaging to social equity will impact the choices of customers who want to see their own values reflected through their choices. This is especially the case for millennials. Which leads to…

Generational Change

While Millennials have reshaped the world (and the coffee market), the issue isn’t just “millennials” – it is about generational differences. Knowing your market, the trends, and the differences between generations is crucial for your future.

This is why the NCA is extending its National Coffee Drinking Trends market research to include next-generation consumers, 14 and older, and publishing a new breakout report on their consumption behaviors and attitudes. . And why for coffee companies, technology is another change driver. Which leads to…


The next market transformation could be an app away. And while my father would have tinkered in the garage with a wrench and a set of screwdrivers, today’s tinkerers are developing new brew methods, new programs, and experimenting with new ingredients. These require new delivery systems, new packaging solutions, and even education of consumer and regulators. Which leads to…


Over the past few years, regulators have “discovered” coffee: caffeine consumption, GMO labeling, nutrition labeling, food safety, and health issues have been part of a steadily growing agenda. Which leads to…

Global Markets

Coffee has always depended upon a global supply chain – but now regulators, trends, and media have connected the world of coffee as never before. International markets may have unexpected – and unprecedented – implications in both the short and long term.


The Power of Weak Connections (and Strong Coffee)

Given all these challenges – and more – how do we explore the innovations that can help us thrive in a shifting environment?

One way is through something that is known as the theory of weak ties – or weak social connections.

We tend to only interact with the people we are close to, consume media with which we already agree, and spend our free time in a social-media echo chamber. The theory of weak ties suggests that by stepping outside of these well-worn paths – to connect with people with whom we have something in common – but not a lot – we gain fresh perspective, find new solutions, and come up with new ideas.

Many years ago, while working for Hollywood to help fight DVD bootleggers, I created the concept of DVD-sniffing dogs. I came up with the idea after meeting a friend of a friend, a woman who was sponsoring landmine sniffing dogs to clear fields in Kosovo. “If dogs can sniff out landmines, why not DVDs?”

This is why the coffee community is so powerful. Association events – like the NCA Convention 2017 – connect people who know something about our business, but may have different perspectives on the same challenges. It’s why we’re focusing on “innovation,” hearing from exciting (and entertaining) speakers from outside the sector to gather fresh ideas to solve real-world problems. It’s why we are releasing the new generation NCDT breakout report at Convention to help you make more strategic decisions all year long.

And this is why the National Coffee Association offers everyone a great opportunity – through the member directory, volunteer work, and in-person events – to find the answers they need to meet the rapidly changing world of coffee.


Learn more about the NCA Annual Convention 2017, March 23-25 in Austin, TX.

Comments? Questions? Start a conversation in the comments below!


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