In October of last year, we packed up our van and set off on the 3km journey to New World Thorndon. Neatly tucked away in that red and white Transporter were a few things we'd been chipping away at for a while. A customised shelving system that would hold brew gear, brew guides and a whole lot of coffee. This coffee had just been scooped from the cooling tray into airtight bags to be placed squarely in the fresh produce department of one of Wellington Central's busiest supermarkets.
See, just like the posters Doug and Matt from the Art Dept designed for those four metre high store windows, we think coffee should be as Fresh as your Vege. What that means is we'll be really clear about when our coffee was roasted, and we'll be pulling it off shelf if it ever makes it to twenty-one days. An idea not so radical for broccoli or bean sprouts but a simple principle that has been watered down in the rest of the aisle where "fresh" might mean three to six months old.
For most, having Coffee Supreme in the aisle is an obvious and well received move. A few of us, especially those of us who have been here a while, have had gentle enquiries about the plan and the dialogue usually goes something like: “What is Supreme doing in the supermarket?!” to which the obvious answer is, “Ah, mate, but what are you doing there?”
So, to provide a fuller response to the questions our customers, our friends, our fans have, we gathered all it together and got our CEO, and Deliverer of Urgent Decaf, Al Keating to respond.
Q: Hey Al, I remember being told that, ‘Supreme was the coffee you couldn’t find in the supermarket’. I think you might have even told me that yourself... What has changed?
Al: Supermarkets. In short, I’d have to say it’s the supermarkets that have changed.
We once shopped at supermarkets for 72-packs of loo paper and Weetbix and teabags. Now, we go there to buy those staples, but we can find some of our most beloved brands in the aisles too. If I’d told you 10 years ago I was shopping under the one roof for stuff like Bonnie Oatcakes, Almighty Juice, Fix & Fogg, Antipodes water, and Garage Project beer, you’d assume I was at a specialty store or similar, right? Nope - just New World Miramar.
So, we figure, why shouldn’t we be on the shelves next to our other favourites, where everyday Kiwis are shopping for their favourite everyday needs.
Q: So you’ll be in all supermarkets around New Zealand then?
Al: Eventually, I’d love for Coffee Supreme to be as ‘everyday-beloved’ as other Kiwi greats that have managed to transcend the context of their surroundings. Think about brands like Whittaker’s, Vogel’s, Ceres Organics and Ecostore. These are all Kiwi brands that are undisputed ‘best in class’. They have gone from being flash-and-hard-to-find, to everyday household names. You can find these in the Te Kuiti Four Square as well as Moore Wilson's in Wellington.
So yeah, if we can make sure our coffee will be delivered as fresh and taste just as good then why wouldn’t we be accessible to all Kiwis.
Q: Supreme for years has said “fresh is best”. How are you going to stick to that amongst other coffees with Best Before dates that look like Science Fiction settings?
Al: A very good question. As supermarket shoppers, we’ve been trained to see dates on products as a deadline - “I have until this date to eat this.” Well, that’s the BIG challenge for us. We want to communicate to shoppers when we roasted our coffee (roasted-on), and help them understand that like any fresh food, quality is going to decline within a couple of weeks and then perish. You wouldn’t have stale bread in your trolley, right? So why buy stale coffee?
Q: Has it been an easy decision to make internally? I bet there’s been some robust discussion around the cupping table!
Al: It’s been a long and tricky conversation. When I joined Team Supreme in 2005, they were just in the process of changing their minds about hitting the supermarket shelves then! The fear was that if it was available at supermarkets it would cause us to lose our credibility as New Zealand’s best wholesale coffee roaster. We were terrified that cafes would say, ‘pffft, now anyone can buy it’. The truth is, anyone can buy us! And, so many people do - we have thousands of online customers who have us delivered to their doorstep every day.
Now, we discuss which supermarkets we’d like to be in, and how we can support them to sell a fresh product. We treat them like any customer. That has helped us make the call to supply supermarkets. We have actually been in Super (Fresh) Markets like Moore Wilson's and Farro for decades. It’s an obvious next move to begin supplying some of the best supermarkets around New Zealand - it is after all, where the people are.
Q: Is what I can buy in the aisle the same coffee that turns up on my doorstep at home? Or that my favourite cafe serves up?
Al: Absolutely. We don’t source and roast a cheap and cheerful blend for the ‘reduced to clear’ bin. The Supreme blend you buy from New World Thorndon is from the same batch that gets sent to Farro, which is identical to what you drank this morning at your favourite cafe serving Supreme. Same goes for all of our single origin coffees, and decaf too.
Q: Are you only working with New World?
Al: New World is a great fit for us. Each store is owner operated which means a new relationship to start and nurture. Something we're accustomed to doing with the 300 independent cafe owners we work with around the country. It made sense to start there. New World is also doing some pretty interesting stuff around the country, and have let us try a few new things to kick the door in. As far as I know, we are the first to be allowed to brand the floor at New World Victoria Park. And hey, we got to place 250g bags of beans next to the avocados in Thorndon. That was definitely pretty fun!
Q: Will you have your entire range available in the supermarket aisle?
If you've followed us online you'll know we have new coffees releasing every fortnight. Sometimes they disappear as quickly as they popped up. Really limited offer coffees that we're lucky to be able to offer to clients who are excited by interesting and rare coffees. Supermarkets require more continuity of supply and we’ll curate a best-of for the aisles. Our greatest hits, a few of the favourites (best-selling) single origins, and of course decaf.
Q: Is Instant all a part of a bigger plan for supermarkets?
Al: Instant is for everyone. Everywhere. It’s the best coffee when you can't have the best coffee. We’ve all been there, right? On a plane, stuck in a transit lounge, in a bush hut, or just caught out at home. So, for such everyday emergencies, why wouldn’t you pop it on the shelves of The Temple of Everyday - the supermarket.