Buddha, spaghetti sauce and coffee

By | September 18, 2007

“Believe nothing just because a so-called wise person said it. Believe nothing just because a belief is generally held. Believe nothing just because it is said in ancient books. Believe nothing just because it is said to be of divine origin. Believe nothing just because someone else believes it. Believe only what you yourself test and judge to be true.”


Buddha“Just an espresso for me. I don’t want to get hyper”

One of the keys to starting or running any business is the ability to ignore the vast quantity of ill-informed (but often well-meaning) advice. Friends, family, suppliers and even customers are all only too eager to offer advice. I’ve lost count of the number of times a customer has said to me

What you should do is…

Whereas what you should do is actually ignore what they’re saying and only do the things that YOU really know to be true and to work for your business. The reality is that our customers (and we as consumers) very often don’t know what we want and aren’t very good at articulating it truthfully when asked. I’ve conducted focus groups over the years and, if I’m honest, learnt very little of any real value from pure discussions.

As Henry Ford memorably said:

“If I had listened to what my customers believed they wanted…I would have made a faster horse”

In the coffee business this translates into testing and trying out a variety of products and ideas and judging the results, not by customer or staff reactions, but by the money in the till. Ultimately that is what counts. That is what, to paraphrase Buddha, brings you to a state where you can judge the truth.

I watched a fascinating talk by Malcolm Gladwell entitled “What you can learn about spaghetti sauce” which explains this very point. The gist of the talk is that only by actually trying a huge variety of spaghetti sauces on consumers did they come up with the concept of an “extra chunky” spaghetti sauce. The consumer would argue that they wanted spaghetti sauce just like the Italians eat it but only by really testing did they discover that this is simply not the case. And lo they sold $600 million of chunky spaghetti sauces in 10 years.

$600 million from testing and trying new stuff and not just by asking!


He also makes some interesting points about coffee. Not least of which is the fact that when questioned most people say they like a dark, rich, hearty roast. The reality is very different – most people like a weak milky coffee. But obviously that doesn’t sound as good as saying “dark, rich, hearty roast”.
We need to be very careful about forcing our opinions and tastes on our customers. And we need to be very careful and really make a big effort to ensure that our customers really are drinking a coffee they really love.

We need to spend time with them to help work that out.

And once we have helped them to work that out – we need to remember it.

And once we’ve remembered their coffee we need to remember their name… (but that’s for another post)

We need to, as Gladwell eloquently puts it, create coffee that makes them “deliriously happy“.

Johnnie Richardson

More great tips in The Coffee Boys book available at Amazon:

7 thoughts on “Buddha, spaghetti sauce and coffee

  1. Stevie

    Great post – as ever. Truly fascinating lecture by Malcolm Gladwell and you have framed it very well in terms of relevance to our industry.

    It had never fully clicked with me that some customers may actually be drinking what they think they should drink and not what they really like. I’m going to attempt to implement a new system to help customers with this process.

    Undoubtedly a “deliriously happy” customer is better than a merely satisfied one who is drinking something that isn’t quite right for them.

  2. darren

    Hi Johnnie,
    Great piece, enjoyed the video. Keep it up.

  3. elementaryteacher

    I really love reading your insights about things!

    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas

  4. John Richardson

    Thanks guys.

    In the same sense that it’s nice to be thanked after you’ve bought a cup of coffee it’s also nice to be appreciated for what I write. It would appear that is something we never grow out of.

    A bit of a follow up to this though. Starbucks have clearly cottoned on to this whole concept.


    They have recently established a coffee conversations podcast. The topics are interesting though. It’s about cupping, explaining jargon and meeting baristas which is clearly, to a large extent, demystifying the whole process. Coffee is a complex and fascinating subject but making it overly complicated doesn’t help the customer in his quest for that cup of coffee that makes him “deliriously happy”.

    Again there are lessons in that I think.

  5. MelissaP

    Your posts are fascinating insights.

    Just wanted to let you know that I’m an avid reader.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *