May 1, 2020

How COVID-19 Continues to Impact Coffee Shops Worldwide


Coffee shops are a place where people go to enjoy specialty coffee, as well as work and socialise. These spaces are also amongst the worst impacted by the spread of COVID-19, with many being forced to close their doors since the pandemic was first announced.

While some countries are starting to ease the social distancing measures put in place to prevent its spread, we don’t know how long it will be before businesses will be able to operate as they did before the virus. Here’s how some affected coffee shops have been managing its impact. 

Lee este artículo en español Cómo la COVID-19 Sigue Afectando a Las Cafeterías en el Mundo

Empty coffee shop

How Have Lockdowns Affected Coffee Shops?

As of the end of March, over a fifth of the world’s population had been placed under lockdown, resulting in many working from home, being furloughed or being let go from work. This has impacted most people’s daily coffee drinking habits. In the past, some might have visited one coffee shop they were loyal to, while others might have explored a new shop each week. Both groups will no longer be able to do so.

Many people are using this time to consume more specialty coffee and improve their brewing skills. Theo Garcia, Co-founder of the UK’s Solo Coffee, says, “I imagine that customers that are used to high-quality coffee have started ordering specialty coffee to home. People also are in less of a rush to make their morning coffee, resulting in more effort. I think there’ll be a huge spike in google searches along the line of ‘how to brew the perfect coffee at home’. Also working from home is hard without caffeine. People will value good coffee more than ever.”

Depending on local laws, some coffee shops will still be able to offer takeaway coffee (while implementing strict social distancing measures) as an income source, in order to keep their staff members employed and keep bringing in some income. 

Coffee shops with an online presence seem to be faring better. For example, Stumptown Coffee Roasters has reported a 250% increase in online sales during the past month. In addition, Ireland’s Café Velo has experienced a 1200% sales increase since this time last year, and Indonesia’s Due Coffee now gets 80% of its orders online. 

You may also like How To Support Your Local Roaster During Social Distancing

Coffee shop sign

How Countries With Less Developed E-commerce Channels Are Coping

Many coffee shops operate in developing countries, where e-commerce isn’t widely adopted or trusted. This can make staying afloat during the pandemic especially challenging.

Veruschka Stevens is Co-owner of Elevate Coffee Bolivia, a specialty roastery and café. She mentions that in Bolivia, “Coffee shops and coffee drinking is by far an afternoon/early evening experience [and]… a reason to hang out… Therefore making coffee at home hasn’t been something coffee businesses felt had many money-making opportunities.” She adds that “Bolivia… [doesn’t] have an e-commerce shopping culture. Shopping is done in person… E-commerce is still very precarious and non-secure. People don’t trust it.”

For businesses in this situation, it could help to partner with a more developed business that has access to the required technology. Veruschka says, “In the last three weeks alone, banks have partnered with local software companies, or initiated new software projects to begin innovating and facilitating online payments or quick no-cash payments (like QR codes). Delivery companies are emerging in very creative and resourceful ways… there is a sense that consumption and shopping is changing… And won’t ever go completely back to normal.”

How The Coronavirus Could Impact Future Coffee Consumption

Lockdown restrictions have placed many shops in a challenging position, but certain things could help them weather the situation until things improve. Here are a few worth noting.

Threat of Decreased Consumer Spending

While many assume that easing of lockdown measures means that businesses can operate as usual, patterns in other countries indicate that this is unlikely. China was one of the first countries to experience COVID-19 lockdowns, and recently reopened many of its cities. Consumer spending has been lower than expected, with many people sticking to online shopping or cutting down on small purchases. It means that sales could be slow to recover, even after lockdowns are lifted. 

Daniel Velasquez is Founder of Campesino Coffee in Colombia and feels that the rise in unemployment could also reduce consumer discretionary spending. He says that “once we have control of the virus and open back up, the consumer will be more frugal with their spending. Many jobs have been lost, so it may take some time before unemployment numbers go back down and consumer confidence goes back up.”

Consumers Might Change Their Coffee Consumption Preferences

Depending on their individual circumstances, customers will be changing their coffee consumption preferences during the lockdown. Some will want to experiment with expensive and exclusive coffees and could be less price-conscious as they’re buying small quantities for personal consumption. Other customers might look for cost-effective ways to enjoy specialty coffee by seeking out more affordable options. In both instances, coffee shops could grow their pool of loyal customers by encouraging more consumption of both.

This could involve encouraging customers to try out new or unusual coffees while at home. Karl Wienhold is the Director of the Colombian Farmers’ Collective and Exporter Cedro Alto. He says that people who enjoy one roaster’s coffee often won’t limit themselves to one type, which may be an opportunity to grow the pool of people who buy high-end specialty coffees. 

It could also be a chance to tap into a market of customers who visited your coffee shop for takeaway coffee but didn’t brew it at home due to concerns over price. In a Keys to the Shop podcast, with green coffee importer Ally Coffee’s COO Ricardo Pereira, he mentioned that the focus should be on coffee that’s well priced, as well as on accessible blends.

Espresso machine in coffee shop

Moving Towards The Future

Not all coffee shops have been impacted by the Coronavirus equally – and therefore not all coffee shops will be able to react the same way to its restrictions. Here are a few measures that could help most coffee shops.

  • Continue to maintain social distancing: For coffee shops still offering takeaway coffee, social distancing measures must be observed. Melina Bautista is the Founder of El Pocillo Café in Honduras. She recommends that shops “mark the floors, prevent the use of money and credit cards (virtual payment is the best option), and finally, install glass barriers to prevent contact between employees and customers.” She also recommends making sure that HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) are recognised throughout the business supply chain to further reassure customers.
  • Use social media to stay connected to consumers: Staying connected with your existing customer base will help maintain their interest in and demand for coffee. This can take the form of tutorial videos on how to brew coffee at home or what to expect from certain coffees. Veruschka says coffee shops have “realized that if they want to sell their beans, they need to share…why and how to use them at home.”
  • Selling items other than coffee: coffee shops that typically only offer coffee can use this opportunity to start offering products like brewing equipment. Veruschka says that an increasing range of quality home coffee equipment is becoming available at reasonable prices. Those who can’t offer more than coffee also have options. They can sell gift vouchers for spending in their shop which customers can redeem at a later time. 

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has impacted the world as we know it. Theo believes that some of these changes could be for the good. “I’d like to think that consumers will begin to see cafés in a different light. An increase in appreciation for the baristas’ skills, and the romanticism of drinking a coffee in a café will be amplified. Coffee shops will… take [their] position once again as being a place of relaxation and reflection.”

How coffee shops adapt to these changes could determine whether or not their business survives. And while there are no guarantees to what the future holds, taking into account the measures mentioned above will place them on the best possible path towards success.

Enjoyed this? Then Read COVID-19: What Coffee Farmers Want You to Know

Photo credits: Neil Soque, Julio Guevara, Nicole Motteux, Coffee & I UK, Bocca Kerkstraat.

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