December 17, 2020

How has Covid-19 changed office coffee consumption?


The Covid-19 pandemic has made 2020 challenging for businesses all around the world. To curb the spread of the virus, governments around the world have implemented regional and national lockdown orders, enforced social distancing measures, and closed a number of businesses deemed to be “non-essential”.

However, now the spread of the virus has slowed down in some countries and that a vaccine rollout is on the horizon, more and more businesses are resuming regular operations. Employees are starting to head back to their offices, albeit under new health and safety restrictions regarding workplace conduct.

Overall, the pandemic has had a marked impact on every aspect of office life – including how people order and consume coffee within the workplace.

To learn more about how office coffee consumption has changed, I spoke to Kieran MacRae from Above Average Coffee and Angela Higgins from Coava Coffee Roasters. Read on to find out what they think about office coffee consumption trends, and how they might evolve in the future.

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office coffee

How Covid-19 Affected The Workplace

When Covid-19 started to spread internationally through late 2019 and early 2020, countries around the world took different approaches to mitigate the effects of the virus.

Many countries implemented full lockdowns, keeping all but essential services in operation. In some areas around the world, lockdown measures have been loosened and offices and non-essential workplaces have started to open again; in others, however, restrictions remain in place.

As a result, the percentage of workers that have returned to the office differs significantly from country to country. However, even for those returning to the office, safety is rightly a top priority.

Edelman, a marketing consultancy firm, recently released an international report entitled Covid-19 and Return to Workplace. This document revealed that half of the employees they surveyed felt that returning to work posed a risk of some kind; 78% said that they feel businesses have a responsibility to ensure their employees are protected from the virus at work. 

As such, around the world, businesses who are asking employees to return to work are adjusting their health and safety measures to maximise employee safety. This includes promoting workplace hygiene, educating employees on responsible behaviour, and providing them with personal protective equipment (PPE) where necessary.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) also recommends that offices regularly disinfect surfaces, install hand sanitiser dispensers, make mask-wearing mandatory, keep workers at least a metre apart, and ensure the office is well-ventilated.

office coffee

So, if businesses are putting these restrictions in place across their offices, how has workplace coffee consumption been affected? 

Angela Higgins is the Vice President of Marketing for Coava Coffee Roasters in Portland, Oregon. She says: “From our perspective, coffee consumption hasn’t decreased. It has transformed café patrons and office coffee drinkers into home baristas.” 

This is the most noticeable trend among coffee consumers in offices and elsewhere across the sector. Home coffee consumption is projected to increase by 4.9% in 2020 alone, having only increased by 3.9% in the four years from 2015 to 2019. 

Fundamentally, with more time at home to get to grips with a preferred way of brewing coffee, more and more people are investing in their equipment. This has been reflected by an 11% increase in the sale of all consumer coffee equipment.

Angela also notes that while wholesale and coffee subscriptions sold directly to offices have decreased in volume, she notes that home and personal subscriptions have increased.

There’s also been an increase in interest in direct-to-consumer coffee sales, despite the fact that the revenue of the office coffee service (OCS) sector is not predicted to recover to the levels it reached in 2019 for at least another four full years.

Furthermore, brewing specialty coffee at home remains an affordable luxury at a time when people are having to compromise when visiting leisure and hospitality businesses.

Many coffee shops, restaurants, and bars that have reopened around the world are still operating under limits in some form (capacity restrictions, no bar service, and limited opening times, for instance).

“Office buildings have shuttered and business is now conducted on laptops in kitchens, bedrooms, and home offices,” Angela says.

“The need for great coffee hasn’t changed. It’s amplified, and as a simple pleasure, it’s more crucial than ever before [in these difficult times].”

Brewing Coffee In The Office

Even though home working continues to be a massive trend for businesses around the world, workplaces and offices are still opening back up.

Kieran MacRae operates the website Above Average Coffee. He says: “Social distancing is key right now. 

“Workplaces are marking out distances between workers and checking to make sure people are abiding by it. Some are limiting the amount of people coming into the office. It’s a hard balance to find.”

For coffee consumption, this means staying from one another and avoiding any kind of physical contamination where at all possible. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that offices looking to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 transmission swap out “high touch communal items” like coffee pots, urns, batch brewers, and water coolers for single-serve devices. 

Kieran says that he thinks the biggest change to office consumption will be employees shifting to make their own coffee in the office. If communal coffee pots are banned and restrictions make it more difficult than ever to visit a local café, there’s only really one alternative: brewing your own coffee.

Kieran says: “Before Covid-19, it was easy to nip out and visit a café. Today, however, offices are a lot more strict about people coming and going, as they want to minimise everyone’s risk of contracting the virus.”

He says that he’s also seen people take an interest in learning how to make a good cup of coffee themselves. As more and more consumers struggle to enjoy specialty coffee at a nearby café thanks to capacity limits or other restrictions imposed on hospitality businesses, they will naturally end up experimenting with their own equipment.

Will Café Visits Will Eventually Return To Normal?

It’s no exaggeration that things have changed for coffee shops around the world. In the UK, The Guardian estimated in early September 2020 that one-third of cafés in the country remained closed. Additionally, those that were still open were following stringent health and safety restrictions outlined by the British government, which means continued disruptions to regular café operations.

In Portland, Angela says that Coava Coffee Roasters has fully reopened, but that the team are taking extra care to adhere strictly to health and safety guidelines. “We’re still offering take-out only and require masks and social distancing in all locations,” she says. “Our sanitisation protocols will remain in place until local health authority guidelines change.

“However, over the last few months, many cafés have filled up again. Most have resumed normal hours and we’ve seen a steady increase in folks coming in.”

Angela predicts that in time, café sales will ultimately recover. She tells me that while consuming good coffee on your own in the office might be a temporary solution, it isn’t the same as heading out for a morning cappuccino or grabbing a quick coffee before a big meeting.

“People will want to resume their normal lives,” she says. “While we know many will continue to make their own coffee at home or in the office, their love for cafés [is still there].”

Kieran agrees, saying that he thinks coffee consumption at cafés will resume in the future, for those in offices and beyond.

While Covid-19 might have disrupted coffee consumption in offices this year, the subsequent rises in at-home consumption, equipment sales, and subscriptions show that people are still drinking coffee, no matter where they’re working.

However, health authority advice does indicate that shared coffee pots, urns, batch brewers, and the idea of a “communal” coffee machine are currently not a positive option.

Altogether with café closures and capacity restrictions, this points to one conclusion for office coffee consumers: a greater need to make coffee themselves. As such, workplace coffee drinkers may well be more likely to invest in manual brewing methods and possibly even learn more about specialty coffee in the process.

Enjoyed this? Then read Supporting Baristas Through Covid-19: Cafés, Customers & Companies

Photo credits: Coava Coffee Roasters, Open Grid Scheduler, Olgierd Rudak, Daniel Scully, Marco Verch

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