Nespresso – An Unsustainable Business Model?

 Single-serving coffee made at home.  That’s the category Nespresso operates in – a segment estimated to be 8 billion USD in 2012 (source).

Nespresso

Some laudable facts regarding Nespresso to start with:

  •  It took 30 years for Nespresso to get to where it is now.
  • Their first patent was registered in 1976 and it was launched internationally in 1991.
  • As of 2012,  their concept (machine, capsule, service) is subject to 1,700 patents.
  • Features celebrities, such as George Clooney and John Malkovich, as brand ambassadors.
  • At 55 cents for a 4-g capsule, Nespresso coffee works out to a nerve-jangling $62 per lb. ($137 per kg). And the hefty markup doesn’t seem to bother its fans.
  • Is rumored to command gross margins at about 85%, compared with 40% to 50% for regular drip-coffee brands.
  • The company confirmed that  Nespresso is targeting to grow sales by around half a billion francs in 2013.

(sources for the above information: 1, 2, 3, 4)

As a brand, Nespresso has been vaunted as the “Apple of coffee pods” riding high on the classic razor/razor-blade business model – otherwise called as the Vendor Lock In business model.  See an informative video here on the specifics of the Nespresso business model using the framework of Business Model Canvas.

Nespresso Business Model

Now the not so good news for Nespresso is the emergence of nearly 100 competitors around the world including 50 that claim compatibility with the Nespresso system (many of Nespresso’s patents have expired in 2012).  A more recent Reuters report on the latest threat to Nespresso from Mondelez…

Mondelez International, the world’s second-biggest coffee maker, is going head to head with larger rival Nestle by launching capsules compatible with its Nespresso system to steal a share of the premium coffee market.

The capsules will be sold under the Jacobs and Carte Noire brands in many EU markets in the second half of 2013 – the biggest challenge yet for the $4.4 billion (2.8 billion pounds) Nespresso brand that has sued many copycats.

These are just the warning bells for the company as many more brands jump onto the bandwagon of this fast growing coffee segment.

David Taylor on the brandgym blog posits that these moves can be in the larger interest of Nespresso as long as it ensures the following:

  • Benefit from market growth: Even if Nespresso’s share drops, sales can still increase if the market is growing.
  • Keep product quality up: Continue offering a better coffee experience through its select blend of coffee.
  • “Load” existing customers: Defend against the Mondelez launch by loading its existing customers with product, and so taking them out of the market.
  • Drive distribution: Drive distribution in new channels. e.g., store-within-store formats.
  • Tell a product story:  have a bit more product “sausage” to complement the emotional “sizzle”

I would however beg to disagree here, as I suspect if the current business model can be sustainable in the long term. And my argument is equally applicable to the Tassimo’s, Dolce Gusto’s, Keurig’s and Verismo’s of the world. Why?

Insight #1: Which business are the Nespresso’s of the world actually  into

These brands are not in the business of delivering convenient, barista like coffee at home. Instead they are in the business of making cup after cup of a consistent brew of coffee on demand with consistent being the operative word. Guardian reports

..while pod machines might not make great coffee, they do make a consistent cup. This is making them irresistible to high-end restaurants…. Nespresso machines can now be found in the kitchens of around 30% of the world’s 2,400 Michelin-starred restaurants. The appeal is obvious –they’re consistent, cheaper than hiring a barista and take up less space than a traditional espresso machine.

Insight #2: What can I learn from a cup of Starbucks coffee that bears my name? 

One thing I enjoy the most whenever I queue up at a Starbucks for my cuppa is eavesdropping on how different people want their coffee to be customized (a Quadriginoctuple Frappucino anyone?) and finally seeing them hold on to the cup with their name scribbled on it with an affection and warmth that comes out of familiarity and a sense of having co-created the cup coffee (by the sheer act of asking for a slightly personalized brew!)

The scribbled name on the cup just seals the deal in a magical way.  (speak about The IKEA Effect)

starbucks_cup

Now based on these 2 insights…

What if a ‘coffee pod’ sets up a unique proposition of designing a one of its kind, exclusive and a truly unique coffee blend concocted to your minutest specifications and delivered it to you as your own coffee pod  (like that cup of starbucks with your name on it) for you to be able to enjoy this very same cup of coffee day after day using the machine back home?

The benefits are obvious: enduring consumer relationships, deeper consumer insights, a treasure trove of data on how people love their coffee, a truly unique blend that only you can deliver, resulting in pods that consumers are willing to pay a premium for and finally pods that cannot be easily replicated by the “me too’s” of the world.

Speak about infusing authenticity to the  vendor lock in business model.

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3 thoughts on “Nespresso – An Unsustainable Business Model?

  1. Hi,

    That was a wonder article. When we consider our five senses, marketing has been done considering mostly in all the senses. But I was wondering whether there are any marketing strategies going on for the sense of touch? Are there any brands which we can recognize just with the touch?

    Thanks
    Bharat

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