How Nespresso's coffee revolution got ground down.
by Ed Cumming
Nestlé’s sleek, chic capsule system changed the way we drink coffee. But in an age when everyone’s a coffee snob and waste is wickedness, can it survive?
“Thirty years after its first successes, Nespresso has scale, experience and buying power that no other premium coffee company can match. But increasingly it finds itself threatened from below by its rivals’ cheaper capsules, and from above by fussier coffee enthusiasts. The more scrutiny Nespresso has attracted, the tighter it has drawn the curtains. It no longer releases figures about its sales or revenues, with its results buried in the overall Nestlé reports. James Hoffman, the author of the World Atlas of Coffee, describes Nespresso as “a black box of a company”.
Nespresso also faces mounting criticism over the environmental impact of its pods. (It does not release any figures for how many of its aluminium capsules end up dumped in landfill, rather than recycled.) Talk to people in the industry, and you get the sense that Nespresso’s golden age has passed. “In the major markets, Nespresso’s getting close to saturation point, and there’s lots of competition,” says Jean-Paul Gaillard, Nespresso’s former CEO. “The good years are over.”
“Nespresso triumphed by selling itself as a sophisticated component of an elite, globalised lifestyle. Wherever you were in the world, you could be a Nespresso person, just as you could wear Nike trainers or use American Express. Now, as that lifestyle looks increasingly bankrupt, it is learning to be just another coffee company. Nespresso helped change the coffee world, but it seems as if the world has moved on. Nespresso argues its coffee has never been better, but the truth is that Nespresso has never really been about the coffee.”