Crema and its band of indy coffee shops take on the giants


Big name coffee chains are about to face extended competition with the launch of Crema, a customer loyalty and rewards app for independent coffee shops.

Started in 2014 at the Founder Institute under the name Fika, the app functions much like that of Starbucks, with free drinks for frequent users and other incentives for java lovers.

CremaThe Crema App, however, doesn’t point you in the direction of a generic coffee chain; the beautifully designed menu shows you a wide array of independently owned coffee shops in your area, with information such as distance, features available like food or wifi and even an Uber cost estimate included for each one. Buying credit on Crema allows you to purchase coffee through the app at any of the more than 100 participating Montreal shops, meaning there’s no problem if you forget your cash.

“I was in a coffee shop and saw a huge line of people waiting to pay, but then the internet broke. So they couldn’t accept credit or debit card. Half of the line didn’t have cash, so they went to the Starbucks just in front. If the internet goes down, they lose half their customers. Why not bring this technology to these small shops so they won’t lose any more customers?” said CEO Elyes Ben M’Rad.

But technological convenience is just one aspect of Crema; it also functions as a marketing tool for a niche that traditionally has not had the funding to increase their visibility.

“We are a kind of franchise for these small coffee shops, we give them the same marketing power. They wouldn’t otherwise have” Ben M’Rad told MTLinTECH. “Scrolling through the app, the sheer number of previously unheard of independently owned coffee shops is astounding. It’s an industry that has relied chiefly on word-of-mouth.”

For Gabriel Dancause, owner of coffee shop and workspace GAB on St. Laurent, it’s an opportunity to showcase their unflagging commitment to coffee itself: “It’s nice to have an app like Crema to bind together the indie coffee community in cities like Montreal and abroad. For us, indie coffee is more than just good coffee, it’s a way of life.”

And Crema reflects the commitment of each individual coffee shop through the selection of those it includes. According to M’Rad, there are certain criteria they must meet for inclusion: “There needs to be less than four stores per brand, it needs to be really high end coffee – so fair trade, indie roasters, eco-friendly – they need to demonstrate a need for the app, i.e. they lack the support of a franchise, and the design of the place has to be nice.”

Crema has already established partnerships in Montreal and Toronto, and after participating in the Food X Accelerator in New York the app will be launching there at the start of next year. But until then, they’ve already been making waves in Canada; within 90 days of launching the app, they’ve gotten around 3,100 users with an average of 100 downloads/day and 500-700 sessions per day. And when the app goes transactional, they expect that number to increase dramatically.

There are also future plans to spread to places like Vancouver, Calgary, and Chicago.

“The idea is to create the biggest indie coffee shop network in the world and connect them all,” said Ben M’Rad. “We promise to our customers, ‘if you buy a coffee plan with us, you’re gonna get the best cup of coffee in the city where you are.”

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