June 2020 - Secret Label's fruity fun. Talking about blank canvases. Roasters rant

Date Posted:10 June 2020 


Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”  — Zen proverb


June 2020

This month's newsletter is late arriving into your inbox as coffees in our popular Secret Label program were held up in transit due to slower sea freight during the pandemic.

May continued the upward trend for consumers needing plenty of fresh roasted coffees to enjoy at home during restrictions. The ongoing rise in order volumes has meant our ability to pick coffee for filling orders each day remains challenging with some lines of fresh roasted coffee inventory running out before the end of the day.

Inevitably, we seem to be roasting almost our entire portfolio every day, with larger quantities and that's proved really challenging and making this dude who's chained to the roaster a little grumpy.

We have increased roasted quantities per coffee to cover anticipated demands and some coffees that were previously roasted 3 times a week are now roasted 5 times a week. It's important we constantly revise our roasting schedules ensuring we continue to achieve our 100% of orders shipped on time, every day. Speed is everything in the online space, getting the parcel out the door fast is super-critical, particularly when freight transit times continue to be unpredictable.

Just for a bit of fun and to reward our loyal subscribers, we ran a special 48hr flash sale in May on a lovely Colombian and the response was amazing with so many jumping on Narino train. We ended up smashing records, so thank you for the support and we hope you enjoyed that beautiful lot.

Parcel networks are still congested, particularly AusPost as they process the largest amount of parcels each day, hence arrival times remain wildly inconsistent - some parcels are delivered within a reasonable period, others suffer the dreaded "delayed" status which generally means the state parcel hub is overloaded and the Xray systems have backlogs, AusPost then sends freight into overflow warehouses to wait in a holding pattern until it can be processed through the central hub.

Sendle currently appears to be a lot faster on some segments, particularly in NSW, QLD and SA metro areas but we caution that delicate and sensitive observation with a caveat that it all comes down to the local Sendle agent in your area - there's both good and bad operators in their network - it's got nothing to so with us or Sendle, but the local agent that handles the final leg. If you experience issues with Sendle, please provide your feedback directly to Sendle so they can manage their network to weed out the poor performing agents.

AusPost's Express service remains a concern as it's hamstrung by a shortage of flight slots and we remind our customers again that Express is not a guaranteed delivery time frame service, but it's faster than standard.

Back in October 2019 we invested in a high speed automatic packaging system from Italy for our 1kg bags, increasing our fleet of packing platforms to 3. This system arrived in January 2020 before the restrictions closed many ports, but we have been so busy during the pandemic to ensure orders get out on time it's been sitting on the floor idle with no chance to install it.

It's now in service and lifts our packaging capacity to around 530 kilos per hour, keeping our business agile and responsive to the rapid turnaround speeds required by the online marketplace. Nobody does it faster - roast, pack, ship.......we execute in minutes, not hours or days !

This month's Secret Label is a shift into the joys of washed fruits with an African powerhouse.

Everyone is talking about blank canvases and doing things differently after COVID-19. We look at renown chef Luke Mangan's changes to instill respect into a industry that's on it's knees.

Roaster's Rant is back and he's fired up from the disappointing tactics used by some advertisers to pull in new customers during the pandemic.



June 2020 Secret Label - a bit of fruity fun

It seemed like June's Secret Label was never going to happen as we nervously waited for one of the lots to arrive after some delays at origin and over the water.

Of course, that's life in coffee and normal when dealing with international cargo, especially from small countries.

We sighed in relief when it landed into our warehouse late last Friday afternoon just before the long weekend.

For those avid enthusiasts of our Secret Label program, you may have noticed a recurring theme over the last 5 months - big, chewy, chocolate textures.

It's the yummo stuff that elicits a second cup and it plays right into the core of what we believe the Australian coffee drinking public crave. Everyone wins with big choc !

But Secret Label is not about playing it safe.

It's a chance to discover something new or interesting and this month comes with a dollop of fruit driven fun.

Instead if dipping a nervous toe into the fruity water, we have carefully waded in knee deep.

It's not a natural so there won't be those searing wild fermented fruits that can throw people off, but I'll share a bit of the secret that it's predominantly African so you can be prepared for a degree of intensity and fruit from fully washed coffees.

It's a blend, not a single origin, with a dominant theme departing from the last few months of heavy dark chocolates.

A punchy, clean and high-flavored lot with sugar cane sweetness, mixed berries, salted caramel, sparkling citric acidity and long creamy finish.

African coffees command a decent price premium in the market.

At this price, it's a steal !

Buy as much as you want - we will keep on roasting it every day until the lot runs out.

A little bit about our Secret Label coffee

Only available in 1kg bags, sorry, no 500g packs.

AROMA - cocoa, forest fruits

FLAVOUR - mixed berries,, caramel, milk chocolate

ACIDITY - medium, sparkling, citrus.

BODY - full, juicy.

BALANCE - great.

AFTERTASTE - caramel and chocolate with a long creamy finish.

OVERALL - crisp, clean cup with fruit driven complexity.

Grab it here - June 2020 Secret Label


everyone is talking about blank canvases

The COVID crisis has changed our lives - barely any moment of our day is spared from thinking about how this virus is affecting the ways in which we work and live.

Sometimes it's the simple things like greeting a friend or family member and you momentarily forget there are physical distancing protocols to adhere - like a ubiquitous curse hanging over us that we crave would disappear forever.

A lot of businesses and work environments changed suddenly. Some adapted and other didn't or couldn't because the odds were perversely stacked against them.

The term "pivot" became a real survival war cry as businesses scrambled to cope with changing circumstances and restrictions.

We've seen some amazing changes and incredibly creative ideas to keep on trading especially in hospitality such as running deliveries of gourmet food and banquets to households in the evenings.

There has been a lot of talk about recovery and how we collectively rebuild and restore our lives back to a supposed pre-COVID state. Just how long things will take to resume back to normal is anyone's guess and ranges from months to 2 years.

Perhaps the most interesting discussions have been proposals for resetting or rebooting markets, industries or systems that were clearly already dysfunctional before coronavirus. The hiatus imposed from slowing activity presents a real opportunity for reform and fundamental change, whether it's the arts, sport, industrial relations, communications, media, education, etc.

Without doubt, there are renegades and activists everywhere plotting and planning changes to their direct environments, whether for the greater good or for personal greed. Some of these ideas have been hatched long ago and it's the pandemic that's forced an acceleration and shifts in power as previously asserted positions are at their most impotent during a crisis, enabling change to enact without significant resistance.

One such industry that has been crying out for reform is hospitality.

After a decade of rapidly declining profitability and major scandals, it seems that hospitality having been dealt some of the most brutal blows from the pandemic is  shaping up as a likely candidate to emerge as a fitter and stronger contender when the shackles of the restrictions are eventually lifted.

Unfortunately, the full impact of the COVID shutdown is yet to be played out with hospitality as the incredibly generous government support packages have buffeted a portion of the direct pain.

Nobody is able to accurately model the consequences until those support programs are removed. We have already seen a major shift from bricks and mortar to online across every industry with some prematurely predicting the demise of physical stores in some retail segments and other large companies like Flight Centre, Wesfarmers, David Jones, etc. all taking the opportunity to jettison the unprofitable elements of their business.

Recently, I was keenly observing the interactions of Luke Mangan (renown Sydney chef) and his displays of leadership in tackling some of the chronic issues faced by dining establishments and how it's attracted controversy.

The seemingly growing habit of diners making reservations and then not showing up is dealt with head on by his intention to implement a system that requires diners to book on a set menu and then pre-pay in full, much in the same way airline flights and many other services and products are purchased.

Almost by chance you could see a divided set of opinions with about half of the people commenting negatively and attacking him for arrogance by how dare he ask for payment upfront.

Predictably, the other half were in full support of his reasons - of course many of those in similar circumstances dealing with the issue of wearing huge costs for fickle customers that think nothing of not showing up for a booking or appointment.

The arguments in support of the change are fundamentally reasonable - restaurants don't make much margin, they have a lot of fixed costs and also need to organize extra resources in terms of people and ingredients well beforehand and when the time arrives to execute, their fresh and perishable provisions are not needed because a group party cancelled at the last moment.

The cancelling party is not privy to the impact of costs and unlikely to understand the mental and physical effects when a business has to suffer. Of course, there are legitimate reasons for why some people cancel, but when the risks are shared under a pre-payment model, there is extra incentive for the booking party to do their best to honour their side of the transaction. It's amazing how the prospect of losing money motivates people to proceed in some circumstances.

It's by no means a revolutionary idea - heck, that's the way it's been working in events and functions for a long time - pre-payment and partial refunds upon cancellation based upon upfront terms and conditions.

Yet the volatility in outrage it's caused is rather concerning or alarming - why ? because some affronted souls think it's their sense of entitlement under threat and just maybe they are blind to the lack of similarities between a fine dining establishment and a Maccas or Dominos fast food business that has remarkably different business processes and methods.

Good on Luke for making a difference and forcing us to think before we act. Supporting and nurturing the talents and skills required of the staff to prepare fine foods.

With a set menu, the food can be prepared with excellence, the diners are more likely to enjoy a better experience and there's a greater chance everyone wins. For example in France this is a generally accepted practice, yet there is outrage here in Australia.

You see when industries are pressured to supply on terms that are onerous, there's no winner, just mediocrity and excuses. We pay and we revert to slamming because our expectations are rarely met under the premise of fine dining that must elevate us to some hypnotic state of delirious exuberance, instead when pressures are bought to bear it leads to a miserable existence for everyone involved and both sides of the table.

How this relates to coffee is a bit of a stretch, but it's a defining moment in an industry that's under extreme pressure and running for cover - how they turn the corner and decide to fight back in the face of increased competition from dark kitchens and the raft of newly curated home delivery gourmet banquets and regain relevance and confidence makes for an interesting observation.



Roaster's Rant - selling snake oil

The last few months have been illuminating on many fronts - revealing some of the best (amazing health care workers making huge sacrifices) and worst in our society.

Embarrassingly, Australia was judged the most selfish nation in the world as we collectively panic bought toilet paper, sanitizer, face masks and a range of staples to hoard and gloat over in excessively stocked pantries during anxious moments of fearing the worst.

The coffee industry also experienced it's own set of desperate moments and unfortunately the trend continues.

Numerous social media ads claiming "support local, support small business, support Aussie companies, help us survive, save jobs" were designed to tug at our emotions.

We witnessed some disappointing and deceptive claims - companies misrepresenting facts like Australian coffee when it wasn't grown in Australia, suggestions that all supermarket coffees were roasted outside of Australia, or that supermarket coffees were supplied by overseas global companies that can afford to weather the coronavirus storm.

You see, marketing is all about playing with your emotions to manipulate or influence purchasing decisions.

The fact is Australia's coffee industry is made up of around 96% small Australian businesses by brand and about 80-85% by volume (nobody really knows the accurate figures but it's close enough). That is, most of the brands are family owned small coffee companies - just like us.

With the exception of big players that roast for commodity like McDonalds, Coles Urban Coffee culture, Aldi, Woolworths, etc. those large companies are either majority or fully owned by overseas entities, but you see some of the desperate social media advertisers (which were mostly small, niche, new or unknown brands) during the pandemic seemed intent on leveraging patriotic support promoting key messages that every other coffee brand is part of a large corporation and that you should buy from them to save local Aussie jobs.

We get it, the economy took a hit, businesses took a hit and this is part of a fightback. But let's execute with honestly and integrity.

The days of imported roasted coffees (beans and ground) being a "force" in our domestic market disappeared a decade ago - with the exception of genuine Nespresso capsules and maybe a bit of instant. Roasted coffee is a fresh food and Australian drinkers are no fools with reportedly the world's highest and most demanding levels of expectations for quality and freshness.

The coffee industry remains a labour intensive business and typically the smaller the coffee business, the more manual and labour effort is required to run the company.

Of the almost 2000 brands in our Australian market, you can count on one hand the number of companies that have true end-to-end automation.

So roasting coffee in Australia still requires a lot of human effort across the entire supply chain and lifecycle and even the small handful of overseas players need Australian employees to keep their operations running.