Seattle-based Starbucks is the 800-pound gorilla of the coffee world, with a 36 percent market share in the $37 billion U.S. retail coffee industry and the green mermaid logo ubiquitous in all corners — including close to 40 locations in Sonoma County alone. Dunkin’ Brands, according to research firm IBISWorld, follows next with 13 percent.
But the tide is turning as consumers increasingly move to the world of specialty coffee — made from a variety of high-quality arabica and robusta beans, planted purposefully and roasted to perfection by craftsmen.
The Specialty Coffee Association of America says that artisan coffee is now about 55 percent of the overall sales value and its popularity is growing. The trade group noted that 31 percent of consumers drank a daily cup of specialty coffee in December 2015, compared to 24 percent in 2010.
Locally, the data is reflected by Petaluma-based Acre Coffee, which is opening its fifth location this summer in downtown Santa Rosa, where Starbucks has two nearby stores and Peet’s Coffee & Tea has one.
“I’ve always wanted to go downtown and compete against Starbucks and Peet’s. They dominate … I think we offer a local alternative,” said Steve Decosse, who owns Acre with his wife, Sharon Fitzgerald, and Britt Galler.
Acre’s new store will be a welcome addition and help bring more visitors downtown with the reunification of the Old Courthouse Square, said Raissa de la Rosa, the economic development and marketing coordinator for the city of Santa Rosa, especially as it is a beloved local business that has a loyal following.
“It’s really nice to see people from the community who started a business continue to do well,” de la Rosa said. “We love to see them grow.”
Decosse said he believes he can offer a better product to downtown workers and visitors by sourcing his beans from smaller operations, along with being one of the few North Bay operations that does not roast on the “overly dark side.” He credits the expertise of his coffee roasting manager, Sean White, whom he called one of the best roasters in the country. The lighter flavor plays a role in attracting 2,500 daily customers to Acre’s various locations.
“People are still seeking out the locally owned brands. It’s really strong here,” said Decosse, who lived in Portland, Oregon, for awhile doing research before opening his first store in 2011 in Petaluma.
But Acre is not the only local coffee company growing. Taylor Maid Coffee in Sebastopol plans to open up its second store in Petaluma in late spring near the Whole Foods Market, the natural-food store chain that already sells its product. Taylor Maid has made its name in the local marketplace for its organically grown beans, and its store in The Barlow center has become a popular attraction in the upscale shopping area.
“We really believe that Taylor Maid has such a long story in the organic market,” said Ted Robb, chairman of InHouse Ventures of Healdsburg, which bought Taylor Maid last year.
“Leading Taylor Maid in terms of selling beans to a broader market is exciting,” added Robb, who also wants to expand into Napa and Marin counties. “We feel there is a bigger market out there.”
The growth in the local business mimics that of the beer industry, where the behemoths Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors have lost market share to upstart craft brewers in recent years as younger customers flock to their more creative and hoppy products, said Peter Giuliano, the chief research officer for the Specialty Coffee Association, a national, nonprofit trade organization.