Why should specialty roasters launch limited edition coffees?

Kahwei Yoong
May 17, 2021
limited edition coffee

Every once in a while, specialty roasters deviate from their usual line of products to offer what’s known as a “limited edition coffee”. Also known as “special edition” or “deluxe edition”, it’s typically defined by its short run, limited stock, and distinguishable branding.

The concept of limited edition coffee is popular among roasters and coffee shops thanks to its ability to reignite interest in a brand, promote a sense of urgency, and mark occasions such as anniversaries. It can also help other areas of the coffee supply chain by charging higher prices than the regular range of products.

To understand more about the benefits of limited edition coffee and how specialty roasters can launch their own, I spoke with Starbucks South Africa consultant and three-time national barista champion, Ishan Natalie.

Read next: How Limited Edition Coffee Can Boost Sales & Gain Mindshare

limited edition coffee

What is limited edition coffee?

When specialty coffee roasters and cafés want to offer a product outside their usual range but don’t wish to overhaul their entire brand, they will often launch what’s known as a limited edition coffee.

A limited edition coffee is a small run of a particular type of coffee intended to promote a sense of urgency and exclusivity among potential customers. They have finite availability, which means they usually retail for only a short period of time and at higher prices compared to the normal range.

Although there are countless reasons a coffee business may decide to launch a limited edition coffee, the two most common are to celebrate an occasion and to promote a unique coffee, such as those from micro lots.

Ishan Natalie works as a consultant for Starbucks South Africa and tells me that Starbucks is known for releasing limited-run blends to mark various celebrations, including holidays and anniversaries. “Although it might not be a new coffee per se, bringing limited edition coffees back each year stirs excitement among consumers,” he says.

For example, every year since 1984 Starbucks has released a Christmas blend that offers a twist on their classic recipe. It’s become an established tradition for the chain and attracts significant press coverage each year upon its launch. In a post on their website, Starbucks’ creative director, Jeff Wilkson, describes the Christmas blend as “like little jewels that show up in stores and cue the start of the holidays”.

Coffees from micro lots or produced using experimental processing methods are also popular reasons for the launch of a limited edition coffee. Typically harvested in small quantities, micro lot coffees are those grown on a single plot of land separate from the rest of the farm. 

They’re usually distinguished by their unique growing conditions, such as higher altitude, greater sunlight, or richer soil, which creates distinct and interesting flavours. The traceability and finite supply of these coffees makes them highly valued by roasters and offer the perfect choice for a limited edition range.

benefits of launching limited edition coffee

Benefits of launching limited edition coffee

From coffee and wine, to whisky and chocolate, limited edition products carry a wide range of benefits for both producers and sellers.

Ishan tells me that one of the greatest advantages of a limited edition coffee is the excitement it stirs among all those involved in the supply chain.

“While coffee consumers are loyal to certain cafes, coffee roasters or brands, and are happy with the same option, from time to time, when there is a new product, it is exciting not only for the roasters or baristas but for the consumers too,” he says.

“Excitement from customers creates more connection with the brand and coffee, and in return, it generates more sales in the long run for the business.” 

For example, popular ice cream brand Ben and Jerry’s generates excitement with their limited edition ice cream flavours and has a “flavour graveyard” for discontinued flavours which allows consumers to vote and “resurrect” any of the flavours. This helps to keep customers engaged and enhance their relationship with the brand.

Ishan adds that limited edition coffee provides a differentiating factor for a business. He says, “securing limited edition coffee that other roasters or cafes do not offer makes you unique and sets you apart from others, which ultimately attracts customers.”

While offering limited edition coffee is good for a coffee business, its benefits will also spill over to other parts of the coffee supply chain. In particular, it allows producers and farmers to share their story more widely. Portland Coffee Roasters did this recently when they introduced a “Coffee by 32 Women”, a limited run coffee that promotes gender equality and tells the story of women coffee growers.

“With so much innovation happening within the coffee market, we’re learning about new processing methods and farms around the world,” Ishan says. “Limited edition coffee offers roasters and consumers the opportunity to learn about coffee they haven’t encountered before.”

little's french vanilla coffee packaging

How to adapt your packaging for limited edition coffee

Every detail of your packaging matters, from the logo and images, to the shape and colour of the labels. Recent research into the emotional impact of colours on human brains shows that it is a powerful tool for shaping consumer perception, particularly for food and beverages.

For limited edition coffee, specialty roasters might consider using a combination of black and gold. According to experts, when black and gold are paired together they create a luxurious, exclusive, and elegant feel.

Ishan tells me that in addition to protecting the coffee inside, packaging’s main role is to ignite consumer interest in a brand by telling a story.

“I think coffee packaging is the best place and the most accessible way to showcase the coffee’s story,” Ishan says. “Packaging is such a key tool for customers to make conversation. You see an evolution of customers who want to learn about the coffee yet baristas may not always have the time to talk about the coffee, so this is where packaging plays an important role as the storyteller.

“When I read the story of the coffee on its packaging, I feel more connected with the farmers and roasters. It also allows me to understand the thought and process that goes behind creating the coffee, helping me understand why I am experiencing certain tastes and experience. Through the story conveyed by the packaging, it is as if I met the farmer or the roaster.”

While it is important for your limited edition packaging design to stand out, it should also be aligned consistently with your roastery’s branding, so as to be consistent and avoid confusing your customers.

Inconsistent brand usage leads to confusion which may deter potential customers. Ultimately, it is about finding the right balance between making the packaging unique and eye-catching while staying true to your brand image.

roastworks coffee co

Limited edition coffees provide a number of benefits for specialty roasters, including renewed interest in their brand and an opportunity to stand out among the competition.

At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of sustainable packaging for specialty coffee roasters, including biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable options. Our range of customisable low minimum order quantity (MOQ) bags are ideal for limited edition coffees. Specialty roasters can print their unique branding on bags with an MOQ of just 500 units, providing the perfect option for micro lot coffee and seasonal blends.

For more information on our limited edition coffee packaging, contact our team here.

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