Blank Street Coffee is keen that its investment in technology does not detract from the human hospitality experience for its customers.

Speaking on a panel at MCA’ s recent Food to Go Conference, Blank Street’s UK MD, Ignacio Llado said that as a business born in 2020, and being an omnichannel player, technology is understandably integral to its operations. However, it needs to work for the brand.

It launched its app around the same time its first venue opened in New York, and it is currently piloting a small subscription service in the US. But while the business believes it is an area it will invest heavily in in the UK, it won’t be until it is “100% convinced that is works for us and for coffee”.

“The biggest challenge for us this year is that we really want to invest in trying to figure out what exactly is that value proposition from a digital standpoint. What is the trade off?”,” he explained. “We really believe that the hospitality aspect and the personal aspect and personal touch is such as integral part of the experience.”

Llado added: “We don’t want the addition of a digital layer or channel experiences to end up becoming a transactional experience. We don’t want the trade off between people that come from a digital channel not activity receiving the hospitality that others are. Quite the opposite – we would like to get to the point where whatever we develop from a digital standpoint almost gives you an elevated version of the hospitality experience.”

Fellow panellist Stephen Fern, MD, 200 Degrees, was also of the opinion that it could do more as a business in terms of digital development.

It launched an app last year and offers online subscriptions, but Fern is keen link up all its channels – which also includes wholesale customers and its barista school participants – through a loyalty scheme.

“We want to reward everyone that touches that ecosystem, but we don’t have that technology yet,” he said. “But it’s definitely in the pipeline as something we are trying to build.”

For Roland Horne, founder, WatchHouse, the London-based coffee business, is also keen to weave digital elements into its holistic approach to the coffee experience, which is focused heavily on the quality of the coffee and food offering, the ergonomics of the store and in-store experience and the culture of the operation, which he described as “chief of all those things”.

“How we actually digitally engage across of those spaces is really important to our value proposition and our USP,” Horne added.

Alongside the trend for the continually increasing quality of coffee and increase in flavoured coffees, Jeffrey Young, founder, Allegra, said one of the most critical points in terms of innovation will be around the human experience.

“I think the real innovation in coffee, and in coffee businesses, is going to come from within in how we attract, how we motivate, how we inspire the teams that are going to interact with our customers, and I think that’s where the real competitive edge is going to come from,” he said.