November 10, 2021

Six coffee consumer trends around the world & how café owners can adapt to them


Around the world, there’s no denying that consumer tastes change across every sector, from food and beverage to fashion, electronics, and media. Coffee is no exception.

For businesses, adapting to these new preferences can be challenging, but also represent an opportunity. By developing new products and services, brands can capitalise on change and win mind share among their customers.

So, let’s take a look at some of these growing trends in the coffee sector, how they are evolving, and how brands can capitalise on them. Read on to learn more.

You might also like our article on how café owners can draw customers back after Covid-19.

A barista pours nitro cold brew coffee from a tap.

Trend #1: Cold coffee

Bailey Manson is the Director of Innovation at Intelligentsia Coffee, a coffee roaster with locations across the US. He says that while the latte remains Intelligentsia’s most popular drink, cold coffees are quickly gathering speed.

“We’re selling more cold coffees than ever before,” he tells me. “I think that shift towards cold coffee (with things like the growth of cold brew) have become mainstream. 

“Consumer palates and preferences are changing, and we’ve definitely seen that impact our cold coffee sales.”

In the US alone, the iced beverage segment has grown incredibly quickly in just a few short years. According to Allegra’s Project Iced USA 2020, the product category had an annual growth rate of 7.3% in 2019 and a total value of US $10.4 billion.

Danny Pang is an APAC Technical and Sales Manager at Marco Beverage Systems. He agrees with Bailey. He says that cold coffee has been becoming increasingly popular for some years now.

Danny notes that one of the biggest factors driving this change is the weather. Traditionally, coffee consumption has fallen during warmer months, as consumers have historically turned to colder and more refreshing beverages.

However, in recent years, this fall has been covered by the introduction and rapid growth of iced beverages, cold brew, and other cold coffee options.

Danny adds: “We will all be experiencing longer and warmer weather in the years to come until a clear and sustainable solution is found to reverse it.”

This brings us neatly onto the second trend.

A barista dispenses cold brew coffee concentrate.

Trend #2: Environmental & social impact

According to a 2018 survey by Forbes, as much as 88% of consumers prefer brands have a positive environmental and social footprint. This willingness to invest in sustainable and ethical products affects everything, from the car a consumer drives to the food they eat and the coffee they drink. 

Let’s take a look at plant milks, for example. Research from Mintel in 2021 indicates that 32% of people they polled drank plant-based milk, up by 7% from a figure of 25% in 2020. The study also suggests that the demand for alternative milk was being driven by environmental and personal wellbeing factors.

Similarly, Bailey tells us he has seen the demand for plant-based milk continue to grow at Intelligentsia’s locations. He says it started with requests for soy and almond milk in their cafés, before consumers shifted to oat. 

Another great example of this is the uptick in sustainably-grown coffee. Not only is this a change made by coffee farmers, it’s also becoming increasingly popular with consumers, with the sales volumes of Fair Trade, UTZ, Rainforest Alliance, organic, and 4C-certified coffee increasing year-on-year, according to the CBI.

A pot of tea and a cup on a board.

Trend #3: Health, fitness & wellbeing

“Coffee has seen tremendous growth in the past five years,” Danny says. “Now, the next trend is health. Tea-based beverages and plant-based nutrition are seeing [a surge in popularity].”

Danny adds that the Covid-19 pandemic has naturally influenced consumer behaviour, pushing people towards improving their physical and mental wellbeing. 

This can be charted through a natural move away from sugary soft drinks in favour of other refreshing cold beverages. As well as kombucha and cold teas, this also includes cold brew, which has become a popular alternative to sodas, and other cold or iced coffee products. 

Many people even use black coffee as an exercise supplement, as it gives them a boost of energy to get through a workout session but is incredibly low in calories.

A Hario V60 used for brewing coffee.

Trend #4: An ever-growing focus on quality

Gautam Kumbargeri Srinath is the UAE Sales Manager for Marco Beverage Systems. “Specialty coffee is one of the biggest trends in the wider food and beverage sector.”

He says that an increasing focus on quality among cafés and a growth in consumer education have taken quality standards to a new level in coffee. 

“People want the full story,” he says. “They want to know about everything, from farming and processing to roasting and brewing. 

“This is now something they can get with a hand-brewed pour over coffee made by an expertly trained barista.”

Gautam says this has elevated the café experience, and as a part of that, coffee shops are diversifying into a range of different quality-focused products outside of coffee. He explains that non-caffeinated “lattes” (such as those made with turmeric, matcha, or other quality ingredients) are a great example of this. 

A customer takes a picture of their coffee.

Trend #5: Photogenic products

“Today, food or beverage has to be photogenic,” Gautam says.

He tells me that today, an overwhelming number of people post photos of what they eat or drink after making or ordering it. A quick Instagram search concurs, with the hashtag “coffee” on more than 145 million posts. 

As a result, Gautam says more and more coffee shops are prioritising the aesthetic appeal of their beverages as well as their premises. 

“Presentable vessels are used, ideally ones which match the café’s colour scheme,” he says. “After that, many brands customise their equipment, with branded colours, an unusual or artistic look, and even hand-made equipment in some cases.”

Trend #6: Ready-to-drink

Ready-to-drink (RTD) coffee beverages are one of the biggest new trends in the coffee sector. RTD has skyrocketed in just a few years to become one of the fastest-growing market segments in the food and beverage sector. 

Its growth has been fuelled by these other trends, including a focus on cold coffee trends, convenience, and a focus on health and wellbeing. According to Fortune Business Insights, the RTD market segment could exceed US $26 billion in value by the end of 2025. 

In essence, the RTD segment consists of beverages that are sold in a can or bottle, ready to be consumed. Cold brew is a key part of the RTD market, but other bottled and canned beverages such as lattes, nitro cold brew, and kombuchas are also widely available. 

As well as being convenient, RTD products are also typically available outside coffee shops, in convenience stores and supermarkets.

A selection of canned cold brew coffees.

How can brands respond to change?

“They say change is the only constant,” Danny tells me. “This has never been more true than in today’s society where information travels at the speed of light.”

Danny explains that with the access they have to the internet and social media, younger consumers are constantly bombarded with new ideas and product information. As such, this means brands have a greater number of trends to contend with – in the coffee sector and beyond.

Keeping up with these ever-changing consumer preferences can be challenging. However, they also present opportunities for coffee brands looking to keep their existing customers and attract new ones, too.

“Coffee shops that can identify and adopt trends early stand a better chance of renewing their customers’ profiles with the younger generations,” Danny says. 

His advice is simple: stay relevant. 

“This is key to survival and success for the long-term, especially in the current climate where cafés are increasing in popularity and the competition is growing daily.”

Be open – don’t restrict yourself

“I personally think coffee is best hot and it’s best black,” Bailey says. Nevertheless, he explains that if they only served hot black coffee, that wouldn’t necessarily help them in keeping their doors open. 

“We sell more with milk than anything else, and we’re selling more cold coffees than ever before,” he adds. 

Bailey points out how valuable it is to be flexible. Even if a customer comes in and orders something with a lot of milk or sugar, baristas can still build a rapport and educate consumers, sharing interesting facts about the coffee or the drink.

“We see some of these people move more and more toward coffee-focused drinks,” he says. “It happens. But, if you’re not willing to flex in the first place, then you might not be open after a few years to get to that point.”

A Marco employee uses the POUR'D system.

Use good equipment

In order to prepare quality drinks or make new additions to your menu, you need to start by investing in the right equipment. 

For instance, Bailey says that as a response to cold coffee’s popularity, Intelligentsia started offering more drinks on tap and installing cold water taps for baristas to use across their locations.  

This is why Intelligentsia has been working with Marco Beverage Systems on the POUR’D. This coffee delivery system dispenses cold coffee from either a ready-to-drink or concentrate source, making it easy to prepare a range of different beverages. 

As for quality, hand-made filter coffee, you can invest in a solid pour over coffee set-up to appeal to more discerning coffee consumers. Using a precision brewer such as Marco’s SP9 will help you offer a better-brewed and wider range of filter coffees.

Adjust your service & be aware of your space

“Your service model and often your menu are determined by the structure and design of your space,” Bailey warns.

Use this to your advantage. Tweak your operations to make sure customers and staff are as comfortable as they can be, and make sure your premises’ design communicates quality and aligns with changing consumer preferences. 

With the Covid-19 pandemic still on people’s minds, too, Gautam also recommends offering some more accessible ordering routes. He notes drive-thrus and mobile ordering apps are a great way to proceed.

A coffee shop without customers in it.

Adapting to the ever-changing preferences and tastes of the coffee consumer is easier said than done. But by keeping an eye on trends and being open, you can generate new opportunities for your brand.

To make sure you’re prepared, design your space appropriately, make sure your menu stays relevant, and invest in high-quality equipment. In the end, this will mean you’re in the best position to evolve along with your customers’ tastes. 

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on how automation is shaping the coffee industry.

Photo credits: Marco Beverage Systems

Perfect Daily Grind

Please note: Marco Beverage Systems is a sponsor of Perfect Daily Grind.

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