With the coronavirus pandemic forcing many businesses to change their structures and service, coffee and hospitality have been no exceptions.
Ona Coffee is one of many coffee businesses to adapt the way they are operating due to COVID-19. With many staff members frequently travelling, the roaster implemented isolation methods before the majority of other health and safety measures were put in place.
“We’ve made some drastic changes to different areas of the business – from reducing wholesale pricing for our customers, to heavily reduced shipping rates for online orders both domestically and internationally,” Ona Coffee Marketing Manager Jordan Montgomery says.
“We’re trying our best to maintain some sense of normality during this time, and trying to make sure that our customers have access to the coffee they love. Our priority has and always will be our customers and staff. We want to make sure we are doing all we can to protect, help, and assist them during this time.”
In the past few weeks, Ona Coffee has organised for all staff who are able to work from home to do so, and have created a “quarantine zone” for its roasting and operations teams who cannot.
With many other people also adjusting to working from home, some roasters – Ona included – have seen an increase in online and retail sales of their coffee. However, Jordan says this hardly makes up for the hit cafés are taking across Australia.
“Whilst the growth in our online store is great, we would definitely prefer to see those sales being made by our friends and partners across Australia,” he says.
“We’re doing our best to encourage people across Australia to continue to visit their favourite coffee shops and to buy coffee from them, while practising social distancing to maintain the health and safety of others.”
As cafés turn to takeaway and delivery to continue business, consumers can lose the personal interaction they’ve come to expect alongside their coffee.
Jordan says Ona is thinking on new ways to bridge that gap, and allow people to not only have access to coffee, but receive the care and information that comes with that barista relationship.
“Although the many steps in the coffee supply chain lead to the barista-consumer interaction, we don’t believe that interaction should ever stop there,” he says.
“With every coffee we sell, we try to include a story about who has grown the coffee, where, and why. Likewise, with our training centres, we look to further educate people about the theories and methods in preparing coffee, showing that it is much more than ‘just a coffee’.”
Training and education is another area of the business Ona has adapted to current circumstances. The roaster has moved its training online, using Zoom to have live and interactive classes with students from around the world at about one quarter the cost of a typical course.
“We believe that more than ever, it is important for people to have access to information, feel connected to the wider community, and continue learning,” Jordan says.
“We are focusing less on practical skills and paying more attention to theory. We find that while people are trying to obtain the skills to prepare a good coffee, theory can often get overlooked. However, understanding exactly why and how coffee behaves is crucial to being able to adapt in various workplaces.
“It’s no use just learning how to make coffee well on one machine. It’s essential to understand brewing variables, techniques, coffee ageing, and more. We’re also looking at providing online training for other techniques, such as the freezing and preservation of coffee.”
Freezing coffee beans first emerged in barista competitions as a method to preserve coffee beans at a certain point in time, halting or significantly slowing down the ageing process. In a café setting, it allows baristas or café owners to invest in more expensive or exciting coffees that they can sell over a longer period of time.
Ona Coffee recently shared a video of account managers Matt Lewin and Rhys Woods with instructions on how coffee can be frozen at home. It can be viewed HERE.
“The ability to store coffee for an extended period of time has the capacity to change the behaviour of the consumer. Why not buy that $60 bag of Geisha? Instead of having to drink it quickly before it became stale, they can freeze it and enjoy it over six months, or longer,” Jordan says.
“Products like wine have always held an advantage over coffee, in that they are able to be stored for long periods and enjoyed when the consumer actually wanted it. Now, coffee is in a brand new ‘ice age’ where freezing coffee has opened up a world of possibilities.”
With the coffee industry – and the world as a whole – in wading through uncharted waters, Ona Coffee believes the current crisis will pass, and that times of difficulty motivate people the most, causing the most change in a short period.
“Despite all the difficulties, changing scenarios, and uncertainty that lies ahead, the community has drawn together in incredible and innovative ways. We’re seeing multitudes of new online platforms, blogs, initiatives. and communities that are springing up literally overnight, and seeing businesses adapt to new conditions and overhauling their entire style of service in a matter of days,” Jordan says.
“The global coffee community is one that is bound in community, sharing, traceability, and knowledge. I feel optimistic that no matter what changes occur to our industry and the world at large, these ideals will be upheld and that we will be a brave, new world of coffee that has been thrust into the forefront of the modern world.”