Since the outbreak of Covid-19, QR codes have appeared everywhere. Versatile and easy to use, they’ve become an indispensable tool used for everything from ordering food to showing proof of vaccination.
However, in the coffee sector, QR codes have long played an important role in promoting transparency. With a simple scan of a smartphone, consumers can discover a whole host of information about their coffee, including where it was grown, who cultivated it, and how it was processed.
By making it easy to view this information, roasters are able to bring consumers closer to the work done on coffee farms, while also acknowledging and celebrating those at origin.
Naturally, adding a QR code to the side of coffee bags and takeaway cups is a popular option for many roasters. But what sort of information should they be including to maximise transparency?
To find out more, I spoke with the head of quality control at Samba Coffee Roasters, Michalis Katsiavos.
What information do coffee consumers look for?
Today, consumers want to know more about their coffee than ever before. They’re interested not only in the characteristics of the coffee, but also in its provenance and the “story” behind it.
According to a recent survey, nearly 70% of consumers say that information on the origin of their food – from coffee to cheese – is either “very” or “quite” important in influencing purchasing decisions.
If a brand tries to hide this information or make it difficult to access, then it can, in the eyes of the consumer, make them seem untrustworthy. In the coffee industry, where there is a history of large corporations exploiting coffee farmers, the level of mistrust only heightens.
Michalis Katsiavos has worked in the coffee industry for more than a decade. In 2019, he launched Farmers Camp Project, an initiative that educates farmers on how to evaluate and roast the coffee they produce, as well as teaching them some basic barista skills.
He tells me that in recent years, he’s seen consumers take an increasingly marked interest in each stage of the coffee supply chain.
“Over time, I’ve seen the industry shift,” he says. “Modern coffee customers tend to ask more and more about coffee, such as information about the farm, the growing conditions, the origin, and the variety of the beans.
“This is especially the case now that experimental processing methods like anaerobic fermentation and carbonic maceration have become popular. Consumers are tasting these unusual coffees and they really want to know how it was made.”
Why does transparency matter?
Like many overused terms, “transparency” has become something of a cliche in the coffee industry. However, its underlying significance remains important.
In short, transparency is the ability to see all aspects of the supply chain, from origin all the way through to roasting and brewing.
A few years ago, only a few had access to information regarding a coffee’s journey. But as the desire to know more about the inner workings of the industry grew, transparency became more a necessity than a nice addition.
Understanding what happens at all stages of the supply chain is important for several reasons. From a consumer and roaster perspective, it ensures that purchasing decisions are not contributing to what’s known as “producer poverty”, a situation in which the people who make the coffee cannot afford to live on the prices at which it’s sold.
If they’re able to see the prices of their coffee in relation to the amount the farmers need to live sustainably, they can make better decisions about who they buy from. With full transparency, they can also see who is taking the most from the sale of each bag of coffee – and push for change if there appears to be any sign of inequality.
Michalis also explains that when customers are able to appreciate the work that goes into their coffee, they are often willing to pay a premium.
“When consumers learn specific information about the farmers, it helps them form a connection, bringing them closer to origin,” he says. “This is really important because if they respect the people who grow their coffee, they’re more likely to pay higher prices for it.”
How can QR codes promote transparency?
While listing an origin and a handful of flavour notes may be enough for some consumers, the majority will want to know as much information as they can about the coffee they buy.
However, trying to cram lots of text onto a single coffee bag is a big ask for designers and could quickly alienate customers through information overload.
The solution for many roasters is QR codes. Invented in 1994 by Japanese company Denso Wave, these revolutionary little barcodes have transformed the way brands share information with their customers. They simply have to scan the code with their smartphone, which will take them to an app, website landing page, or social media account.
Michalis tells me that one of the main benefits is that they allow roasters and cafés to provide additional information about their coffees without overwhelming potential customers.
“QR codes are everywhere,” he says. “Together with your phone, they are the easiest way to give customers useful information about different coffees without intimidating them. They’re not confronted with lots of facts all at once – but they can go off and discover more at a time that suits them.”
This helps promote transparency for the simple reason that it encourages roasters to offer more information than they otherwise would. Rather than holding back on certain smaller details because they feel as though it would put people off or compromise their bag design, they can include it all on a landing page accessed via a QR code.
An organisation that’s taken advantage of this technology is Farmer Connect, with its Thank My Farmer initiative. Thank My Farmer allows customers to find out about where their coffee was grown, processed, exported, and roasted by simply scanning a QR code on the packaging.
They can also learn about Farmer Connect projects that support producers and their families in Colombia, where the coffee is grown.
QR codes have changed the way information about the coffee industry is shared. Rather than inputting full web addresses or including the “story” on the side of packaging, roasters can now insert these simple barcodes to give access to a whole world of information.
At MTPak Coffee, we can help you create a QR code for your coffee bags and takeaway cups.
Whether you want to inform customers about where their coffee is from or offer brewing instructions for the perfect pour over, our expert team can guide you from concept to completion.