May 31, 2018

Why Specialty Coffee Needs to Befriend The Capsule Consumer


The word “convenience” rarely comes to mind when you think of third wave coffee. “Origin,” “roast profile,” “extraction,” “sustainability” – these are the things you’re more likely to think of.

And so capsule coffee, which normally also has a high environmental impact, is often treated with disdain by the third wave.

But as more and more consumers turn to user-friendly pods, specialty coffee and capsule technology may need to find a way to overcome this difference. Refusing to do so could represent missed market opportunities.

Lee este artículo en español Cápsulas de Café: ¿Tienen Lugar en el Café de Especialidad?

coffee pods

Used coffee capsules.

Understanding The Coffee Capsule Consumer

In 2017, The National Coffee Association USA (NCA) announced that just under 30% of adult past-day coffee drinkers make coffee with a single-serve brewer. But don’t start celebrating yet: while you might think that this includes single-cup V60s, Kalita Waves, and other pour overs, the NCA actually treats drip brewers as a separate category.

“Single-serve brewers,” in this context, typically refers to capsules and pods. We’re talking Keurig, Nespresso, and so on.

That same study demonstrates that it’s become popular at home, in the workplace, and even in hotel rooms.

So, what’s behind the rise of capsule coffee? Well, according to a 2017 Statista survey of adults in the US, UK, and Germany:

  • “Ease of coffee preparation” is the most important reason in the UK and the US, and the second-most important reason in Germany
  • “Taste of the coffee” comes first in Germany and second elsewhere
  • “Quality” and “value for money” share third and fourth place

In other words, you’re looking at a consumer who wants delicious coffee – and sees paying a price premium for it as representing good value for money. Does that really sound so different to a specialty coffee lover?

Specialty coffee enthusiasts usually seek high-quality, delicious coffee. You’ll see them sipping on espressos or slowly drinking filter coffees, paying attention to how the origin and brew method affect the aroma and flavor. These customers are happy to pay more for better-quality beans.

The only difference is that one of these two groups also values convenience. And while drip coffee remains the most popular way to brew (NCA 2017), single-serve isn’t far behind.

So now my question is: could specialty coffee interact with those single-serve consumers who like to buy coffee pods? And how would we all benefit from this?

You might also like What Is Third Wave Coffee & How Is It Different to Specialty?

commodity coffee

A variety of different coffee capsules.

The Coffee Pod Revolution

What would a specialty coffee capsule look like? Actually, we already know.

The single-serve pod had a rocky introduction to the third wave. High costs, an inability to be recycled, and an association with stale commodity coffee led to many rolled eyes and angry petitions.

But pods have matured, just like instant and even whole bean coffee. Today, you can find recyclable coffee capsules (although it’s worth considering that manufacturing them still has an environmental impact). Those capsules may even contain Panama Geisha or Cup of Excellence coffee.

Specialty coffee has found its place in the pod revolution. And in doing so, it’s made high-quality and sustainably sourced coffee accessible for a larger percentage of the population.

There’s just one question that remains:


Redemption Roasters specialty coffee pods, which include blends and single origins.  Credit: Redemption Roasters

Should You Be Manufacturing & Selling Pods?

There’s no doubt that coffee capsules are a part of the modern coffee landscape. But are they right for your business?

To answer that, you need to first know your clients. Do they use single-serve brewers? Would they use one if specialty capsules were available? How would this fit into their daily coffee routine?

But be wary of over-generalizing. We can’t assume all specialty coffee consumers own a pour over device at home. In the same way, we can’t assume single-serve consumers only drink single-serve coffee. Would they drink or, in the case of wholesale, purchase and resell it frequently enough for it to be worth your investment?

The third wave and single-serve capsules don’t have to be enemies; in fact, there’s room for specialty capsule lovers in the coffee world. However, it’s up to us to research the opportunities and decide if we want to make room for this market segment.

Enjoyed this? Check out What Is Third Wave Coffee & How Is It Different to Specialty?

All views within this opinion piece belong to the guest writer and do not reflect Perfect Daily Grind’s stance. Perfect Daily Grind believes in furthering debate over topical issues within the industry, and so seeks to represent the views of all sides.

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