A third of Gen Z will ‘never drink instant coffee again’

UK coffee shop market
  • A new survey has identified significant behavioural changes among young UK coffee consumers
  • 33% of Gen Z consumers say they will ‘never drink instant coffee again’
  • Coffee shops are increasingly being acknowledged as places where people can work

INSTANT COFFEE could soon be a thing of the past and takeaway orders will drive the future of the sector, according to a new survey of the British coffee industry.

The research, commissioned by Cairngorm Coffee, a UK specialty roaster, explored the lasting impact of Covid-19 on coffee consumers and their purchasing habits.

It found that one in three of those aged 25 and under – known as Gen Z – will “never drink instant coffee again”, while 43% of millennials said they are drinking “more coffee than ever” since the pandemic.

Takeaway coffees have also remained popular after months-long lockdowns between March 2020 and early 2022 meant they were the only way for consumers to drink coffee out-of-home. According to the survey, around a third of Gen Z respondents would now class a takeaway coffee as a necessity, rather than a luxury.

Robi Lambie, who found Cairngorm Coffee in 2014, says the data shows a significant behavioural change among younger audiences as a result of Covid-19.

“We know anecdotally that a lot of our customers really commenced their coffee journey back at the start of lockdown,” he explains. “The data from this survey backs up the fact that Gen Z and millennials, in particular, have really run with this trend over the last few years.

“From the survey, we’ve seen that 18% of Gen Zers have upped their at-home coffee game as a result of lockdown, and we’ve seen these trends play out with more and more customers opting to pick up a bag of our freshly-roasted speciality coffee to enjoy at home – it seems clear these trends are here to stay.”

instant coffee gen z

The rise of the coffee shop office

When the first national lockdown was declared on March 23, 2020, offices were among those forced to close, leaving employees with no choice but to work from home.

As restrictions eased, a full-scale return to office working was slow to materialise. For many businesses, home-working became ingrained into company policy, while others adopted a hybrid system of “flexible working”.

Coffee shops have played a key role in fostering this new culture. With plug sockets, wifi connection, and a ready supply of hot drinks, they offer a space away from home that people increasingly see as an office-like space.

This is reflected by Cairngorm’s study, which indicates that almost half (48%) of respondents from Gen Z are now likely to work from a coffee shop. And, according to Robi, this means long-held views about the use of laptops in coffee shops are starting to change.

“There used to be a bit of a taboo surrounding laptops in cafés and it’s one thing we definitely had to consider,” he says.

“We’ve seen friends throughout the industry take a stand and ban laptops or work meetings – but for us it’s all about being respectful, not outstaying your welcome when others are desperate for a seat, and ensuring you continue to order coffee while working. There’s a balance in there somewhere which works for both parties.”

cairngorms coffee specialty roaster scotland

The end of instant coffee? 

Instant coffee has undergone something of a makeover over the last few years. Blue Bottle Coffee unveiled its “craft instant” last year, while Nescafé teamed up with specialty roasters Perky Blenders and Grindsmith to launch its own products in the space.

Some industry observers suggest it is a response to the growing demand for convenience that gathered pace during the Covid-19 outbreak. However, as the research suggests, instant coffee doesn’t make the quality cut when it comes to younger consumers, with 33% reportedly switching it out in favour of specialty coffee.

Instead, Robi says millennials and Gen Zers are increasingly “leaning into” conscious buying – and, whichever way it is positioned by companies, instant coffee pales in comparison to specialty coffee wherever this is concerned.

He adds: “Rather than opting for mass-produced, ethically questionable sources for their morning cup, they’re increasingly moving towards the artisanal, small-batch approach that represents the farmers and producers we work with.”

Photo credits: Cairngorm Coffee