Bold move in coffee house and cafe awards

Jaguar, the extremely significant importer and distributor of spare parts to the coffee machine trade, has made a big gesture to encourage entries to the Beverage Standards Association’s annual accreditation scheme – this year, it may possibly subsidise a hundred entries from beverage operators who might not otherwise have been able to put themselves in for recognition. Furthermore, the Jaguar initiative may mean recognition for more pubs, hotels, and other kinds of caterer who have moved towards higher standards in hot beverages.

The theory of the BSA awards is to give cafes and caterers the chance to display a quality sign or ‘mark’ which confirms that the venue prepares and serves its drinks in what the trade considers the right manner, and to the proper standards. There are some individual prizes awarded to some cafes which are reckoned to have served the judges the best drinks in the country, but the overall benefit of the scheme is that the beverage industry can demonstrate an increasing number of venues working to high standards.

As with so many trade contests, the drawback is of numbers – the number of outlets now serving espresso-based coffee might be reckoned to have reached the hundreds of thousands, but entries to national café or barista contests still struggle to reach three figures.

It is always a matter of debate as to whether entry fees are a factor in this – event organisers will argue that they need income to cover the costs of judging and administration, whereas for independent café owners, an entry fee is just one more expense that they can do without. And, has often been observed, what may be ‘a relatively small amount’ to a well-paid executive can be an awkward and unwelcome extra expense for a front-line café owner!

With this in mind, Jaguar has invited its distributor network to get involved. Every distributor who does a certain item of business with Jaguar in the near future will have the right to nominate a beverage operator as an entrant for the BSA awards. Jaguar will effectively subsidise that operator’s entry, and has committed to supporting up to a hundred entries – which, managing director James Russell has told the Portal, appears to be a perfectly achievable figure.

“We were involved last year as sponsors of the three milk-based drink prizes, and while there were a lot of things about the contest that we liked, the thing that stood out for us was that the numbers were not enough.

“Every entrant we spoke to, without exception, said that the process had been good for them, on two levels – not just publicity drawing people in, but the process of being monitored and the target of keeping standards up in a day-to-day business.

“But it really stood out that this needs to happen to more people. It has to be on a bigger scale, because the more winners, the more credibility… if the consumer sees one sticker on a window, they may forget it, but when they see it again and again, they realise it must mean something.

“The general idea of something that the public can see relating to drink standards is a good one for the trade in general.”

A curiosity of the Jaguar move is that it may see the accreditation stickers appearing in more kinds of venue than before. Last year’s BSA awards did appear to recognise some pub and hotels serving good coffee, but James Russell thinks he can broaden this.

“Some of the distributors we work with specialise in cafes, some in pubs, and some in hotels… but by supplying all the distributors, we cover them all. So, through what we’re doing, the potential for hotels and pubs and restaurants now has more scope.

“If standards are rising in the kind of venues where you might not have expected it, then this move may achieve a widening of the recognition of the different types of business now serving good drinks.”

This story is by Boughton’s Coffee House magazine, and also appears on the Caffe Culture Portal, the news website allied to the cafe trade’s main show: http://www.caffeculture.com

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