Our world revolves around convenience, and that’s not all bad. Before the introduction of the printing press, all books were hand-written. Not a small inconvenience and, as a result, only the very wealthy could afford a book. Likewise, before the arrival of the telephone, communication was largely done by messenger or postal letter. The telephone changed the way we view distance, and it made the world a much smaller place. Both were huge time-savers, and winners in the most convenient product contest.
Today, CPG marketers are all about selling convenience, and they can charge a premium for easy-to-use or -make products, from liquid soap and single-dose laundry detergent to bottled water and 100-calorie mini-packs of snacks. Consumers are willing to pay more for these things so that they can shoehorn more things into their already jam-packed lives. But does a backlash loom?
It seems as if everyone around me uses a Keurig, which is considered the ultimate coffee convenience — a coffee-making game-changer. It is convenience that doesn’t come cheap to its fans. And the ranks of Keurig critics seem to be growing. There are those, including John Sylvan, Keurig co-founder, who believe the brand’s single-use pods are too expensive and hugely wasteful. “It’s not like drip coffee is tough to make,” Sylvan is quoted this month as saying.
I’m with him. I prefer the slow-brew approach to coffee. Specifically, I like a well-seasoned French press and the ritual that surrounds making a cup of coffee in this old-fashioned way. There’s something very rewarding and authentic about the sensory experience of grinding the beans, pouring the water and waiting as the coffee steeps. Yeah, it takes a few minutes longer, but there is purity in that time. Those are my minutes to do with as I want. I can check the news, think about my day ahead, or stare out the window and enjoy a life less rushed. Yes, I’ll drink coffee from a pod if convenience is paramount, or that’s all that’s available, but I’ll never be an advocate. And, the fact that I’m not contributing to the 10 billion or so K-Cups disposed of last year makes my coffee taste even better.
I’m not talking about convenience versus conscience here. It’s more about convenience versus consciousness. We can’t deny that convenience sells, but consumer involvement and experience is not to be forgotten. Microwave oven sales have been in decline for close to a decade, and many believe it’s in part due to consumers rejecting those low-involvement, frozen, microwave-ready meals. In my house, the microwave oven is considered the popcorn machine. Although, to the dismay of my wife, I often cut the microwave bag, pour the corn kernels into a pot, add some oil and make popcorn my way. It’s not just me; I believe consumers seek more involvement, more control and a richer experience in the products they use.
A few interesting trends that are not convenience-driven may just be an indication that consumers in fact are ready to sacrifice some convenience, especially if a bit of inconvenience means better taste, less waste, less cost and a better experience. The comeback of vinyl LP’s, the resurgence of the film camera, declining frozen prepared meal sales, urban gardening and the “maker movement” may all signal growing consumer desire for control and involvement — and a little inconvenience.