Does your organic coffeehouse charge more for soy? Why?

There seems to be a rather unfair punishment for customers ordering soy that's based more on what the market will bear than on actual cost ratios -- that is, assuming the cafe is using the healthiest, high-quality organic cow-milk and serving Fair Trade organic coffee. In an area where there's a consistent market for soy drinks, and as demand grows all the time, isn't it time we adjust prices to reflect its standing? Why, when the difference in cost couldn't possibly amount to more than a few cents per serving, is the industry norm to inflict a mark-up of $.50, regardless of drink size?

I'm not a manager in the cafe I work at... I don't crunch the numbers myself. I just know that we don't charge any more for soy than for cow, and that as a soy-drinker (admittedly spoiled by my endless free drinks at work) I always feel a little ripped when I encounter the soy-tax...

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I agree. There's nothing "evil" about charging more for soy. It's an extra expense just to keep another product around, which can go bad, takes up extra space, and needs to be ordered now and again.

Why not be thankful that coffeeshops have soy for us to drink, rather than shaking our fists in the air and demanding it as a basic human right?

Brady said:

I loved the line about "just asking for shot on ice, then adding soy at the condiment bar". Mind if I copy that over to the thread about how to prevent freeloading "ghetto latte" customers?

We don't charge for a splash of soy instead of half-and-half, but do a flat upcharge for the substitutions. Upcharging seems fair, soy costs more. Not 50 cents more, but 1-2 cents per ounce, which is significant in a 16oz beverage. Just go to the grocery store and look at the per ounce price difference if you are actually curious. Why would you not apply the same margin to soy as you do for all other ingredients?

Guys, please don't forget that the "nice markup" that your store "inflicts" on your customers is what pays the electric bill, the rent, your wage, and probably not much else.

Lack of training and/or they just don't care.

Wow -- I started this thread over 4 years ago, and here we are! I've moved from San Francisco to Oakland to New Haven CT, worked espresso jobs in all three, and have yet to be obliged to be the enforcer of a soy tax. Be that as it may, living in New Haven has been a real eye-opener in terms of the differences that supply chains and customer cultures can make. I'm also a home-roaster now with an efficient little kitchen-counter HX, so 9 out of 10 occasions that I get an espresso somewhere other than work or home, it's probably a high-end third-waver that charges top dollar for truly top-notch 'spro and wouldn't want to weaken their image with a menu convolution as parsimonious as an upcharge for alternative milk. At that level, though, I wouldn't bother with a milk drink anyway... But I digress. My point at this stage is more to say that I'm far more sympathetic to the cafes that feel that their survival depends on things like an upcharge; it's a business decision that I begrudge no one, unfortunate consumer turn-off though it may be. My current place of employ sells bagels etc, and does upcharge for tofu cream cheese. Even then we only just barely break even on it, as the tofutti at our access remains a cool 3X the cost of dairy. So, hey -- you do what you gotta do.

The coffee world, with its hallowed link to the baby-food of cows, is not by and large a place I'd expect heaping loads of sympathy for the plight of those that seek alternatives. So all this resistance to the idea of juggling prices to avoid a flat soy tax is reflexive, and I accept that. Having moved out of the Bay Area bubble, I actually accept it more respectfully than ever. As far as being bowled over with gratitude by the simple act of a cafe carrying soy at all -- I can't really do that, because for me personally, as I'm not really into drinking much milk of any sort, if I really can't drink a coffee without it, it must be fully god-awful coffee, and at that point the predominant sensation is one of rue for my addiction rather than joy to be at that cafe.

Regarding burnt soy --- I've pretty much come to expect it from all but the very best espresso joints. Steaming soy is hardly more difficult than steaming skim; the slightest bit of training and attention could get it done right enough at least not to offend, but given the attitude most coffee places (and many coffee aficionados) seem to have towards soy, it's no surprise that the requisite techniques are neglected. If I'm in a lower-end shop or a megachain, even if I am "lucky" enough that they'd deign to carry soy at all, I don't order it; I go americano and hope for an unbleached sugar of some kind. I may get a sugar crash later, but at least the drink was brewed to order and I won't end up with a headache. Or an unduly lightened wallet. :P    


I had to do the math on this to make sure I was contributing accurate data, but here is what I found for our shop:

Soy milk is 3x more expensive per gallon than our high-quality cow's milk. That purports to about a $0.05/oz difference. That means for a 12oz drink, our price rises by $0.60. Charging $0.50 for us is actually a compromise for us, especially considering our typical customer will order a 16oz beverage (we charge $0.50 mark up, the actual discrepancy from our standard is $0.80, resulting in a $0.30 cut into the money we need to keep the shop going). 

Being from the Midwest, perhaps cow's milk is less expensive for our shop, but I wouldn't be able to justify bringing up the cost of all drinks on the menu to account for optional, more costly items. The shop would also suffer from not charging the additional cost of the item.

I view an upcharge for soy milk from our standard milk no different than the difference in cost between two origins of coffee. There are a lot of variables which boil down to: one costs much more than another. Would you charge the same price between a nice $20/lb Ethiopia and a $60/lb Geisha when you serve it?

It would be nice if soy and regular milk were the same price so that I wouldn't have to charge more money to make a drink with an alternative milk product. Sell enough soy milk drinks, and that ratio is spot on with those coffees.

I would love to sell each drink at the same price no matter the modifiers, but it is impractical until the discrepancy becomes a bit more muted. None of our customers bat an eye due to the up-charge, though. They get it.

I sympathize with those who have milk allergies--I've had intolerance of milk on and off and still cannot imagine being allergic--but sympathy is not what makes a COG analysis.

Not that I have much stock in either side of the argument (Black coffee and espresso drinker), but a curiosity about "COG analysis."  It's a term small business owners use a lot, but often the scope of COG doesn't include the long-term infrastructural costs of, say, refrigeration and space.  A bit narrow, if I may say.

Soy and tetra-pak liquids have long room-temp shelf lives, and the cost per unit for one carton vs one case (of 12, usually) are significantly higher, not to mention what larger quantity (more than 2 cases or even a pallet) purchases can save the operator.  I've heard of buying groups going in on a pallet and breaking it out for each member when the shipment arrives at the agreed location.

Many cafes have a milk delivery service (receiving discounts to make it more affordable than retail or even discount retail price - like Cash N Carry, or at a less competitive cost made up for by convenience), and seeing those costs are easy.  Most cafes' soy/alt-milks come off the shelf at Costco or Cash n Carry at higher prices than perhaps a semi-local distributor could give, or even the actual company (some will set up a wholesale account for less volume than you think).  Most of these purchasing decisions come out of convenience ("I'm at Costco/CnC already, it's convenient to buy alt-milk while I'm here"), best price for the area, and local availability (in which case, ya gotta do what ya gotta do).

Anyone who's had to have the backup milk refrigerator (or any other) repaired knows it's expensive to maintain, but where do those costs go?  It's not a capital investment, etc.  And it probably never gets figured into the cost of milk-based drinks, or even the COG.  We must be careful not to cherry-pick our numbers to confirm a too-simple bias.

IMHO, only the particular operator knows their own situation well enough to make that call.  Charging extra may be just what a place needs to break even on those particular items, but I choose to see those alternatives (along with tea and chai lattes and decaf coffee) as a marketing/customer relations cost, as one rarely sees a group of 4 alt-milk drinkers coming into a cafe together (same goes for tea-drinkers, etc).  The option is there so these groups of folks can meet in one place, regardless of dietary restrictions or beverage preferences between that one group of people.  Often, if given good service, the alternatives customers will become your most vocal loyalists, bringing in other friends who may or may not share the need for the product.  Well worth a couple of dimes "lost" for a tiny percentage of the drinks being made.

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