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Coffee Trends-Specialty UP!

The National Coffee Association recently released a data trends report which was produced in collaboration with the Specialty Coffee Association. Some of these trends are pretty revealing and surprising, while others confirm our observations over the last few years.

As you can see in the pie chart above, the younger you are, the more likely you are to enjoy a Specialty coffee. Seventy-eight percent of all coffee cups drunk yesterday among 18-24-year-olds were specialty beverages. In this respect, the education campaign regarding specialty over the last thirty years is working.

Then we come to this interesting data point, forty-seven percent of Americans consumed their coffee yesterday with flavoring. Furthermore, the majority of the flavor-drinkers are those under forty years of age. So just when you are excited by the youth embracing Specialty coffee, you are thwarted by favoring flavoring. This is an interesting dichotomy. The younger Millennials and Gen Z generation are more likely to consume Specialty coffee which likely costs more money and indicates higher quality, and then, in contrast, ignore the superior quality by masking coffee's inherent taste with some sort of additive.

This is music to the ears of anyone interested in producing a large-scale product using a lower costing high-volume Specialty product. This would make purchasing a borderline Specialty grade coffee more cost-effective and mask any inherent defects or faults with a flavor additive.

Conversely, this is disappointing news to the coffee producer hoping to increase the value of their coffee through quality.

The majority of the population believes that flavored coffee consumption is almost non-existent. This follows the same thread of consumers thinking that Instant coffee is going the way of the dinosaur. I was contacted last year to be interviewed as an expert for a newspaper that was making the case that people don't drink Instant anymore. The reporter formed this idea based on his own experience of not seeing Instant advertised and not drinking it personally any longer. I informed him immediately that this was not the case. Quite the opposite, Instant has grown steadily for the last twenty years.

Flavored is very similar in this respect. It may not always be the pre-flavored bags of coffee. It may come in the form of a syrup in a latte or almond butter and ghee in a cold brew smoothy but it is happening and it is continuing to grow as a segment.

Here we get a look at the number of coffees consumed per day. Again, in 2023 we are on an upswing. Also significant is that in "2023, specialty coffee drinkers consumed 3.1 cups of coffee per day. This includes specialty and non-specialty coffee types.... This implies that specialty drinkers are more engaged with coffee and not exclusively specialty drinkers."

This finding is something to read into. If a specialty coffee drinker is not exclusive, it is not considered part of their identity. Therefore, they do not identify as a "Specialty coffee person". It would be more in the industry's favor if it were something people used to identify themselves. This finding is unsurprising as brand loyalty is extremely low, especially among younger generations. People choose using different indicators and reserve the right to change their minds at any point in the process. Gaining loyalty and ingraining specialty as a part of a consumer's identity is a goal for which to strive.


Written by Jake Leonti, F+B Therapy

Mr. Leonti has worked in coffee for over twenty years with disciplines at every link of the value chain from barista to roasting, green grading and importing. Jake is the current Editor-in-Chief of Coffee Talk Magazine, columnist at Santé Magazine, member of the Roasters Guild and host of the Food and Beverage Therapy podcast

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