I have a favorite coffee. It is an espresso roast Fair Trade house brand from Sam's Club. It's not Starbucks, but it's pretty good. Good enough for me to drink everyday and enjoy. I buy a bag for about $14.00, grind it at the store, and it usually lasts me about a month. That's about 50 cents a day and I'll take the small difference in taste for the big difference in price over Starbucks. In fact, by the time I add sugar, milk and a touch of Irish Creme creamer there is not much difference.
Occasionally I run out, though, and it's not worth the 45 minute round trip to Sam's for just a bag of coffee. I have found a really inexpensive dark roasted pre-ground generic brand carried at my local store that is pretty fresh (vacuum packed) and decent tasting. It costs about $2.00 for a brick that will last me a couple of weeks in a pinch. It's not good but it's decent and I'll live with it when I have to.
Yesterday, my wife was making a run for bread, eggs, milk, etc. and I asked her to get me some coffee. I'd been out for a couple of days and I knew that I couldn't make it through Monday morning without it. She came back with a generic store brand that I had never tried before. It wasn't dark roasted which was an instant red flag for me. When I opened the can there was no instant rush of coffee smell to fill the room. In fact, I had to stick my nose right down into the can to smell it at all. Needless to say, this coffee sucks. I'd rather drink a pot of coffee that was created from my already used grounds from last Thursday. Bleh.
My wife's comment, "Well, it was cheap." Her assumption was that because my other substitute generic is cheap that any generic cheap coffee will suffice. This is not the case, of course! My wife does not drink coffee (she will drink a decaf iced whipped cream something or other from Starbucks every once in a while, though) so to her it is a commodity good. She understands that Starbucks and other coffee stores sell top notch and that I get the "good stuff" from Sam's, but below that everything is the same to her.
Not everyone can be a top tier brand. And there's plenty of market for second tier and generics. If you choose to market a 2nd tier brand how do you tell prospective customers that your product is better than the rest of the pack? In my chosen generic coffee's case the packaging is bright blue and red in color and it states on the package "Special Dark Roast". To me that's enough to make a distinction between it and the plain white can that simply says "Coffee". It was enough for me to give it a try and decide that it is an acceptable emergency substitute for my regular brand. Admittedly, it is my mistake for sending my wife for coffee, something she knows and cares little about. But is there something that a 2nd tier brand should do to distinguish itself to the uninformed shopper. Should it have a label that says "Not as good as the stuff on the top shelf, but much better than the stuff on the bottom shelf."? Or should I just tell my wife not to buy the stuff on the bottom shelf ever again.