Why the care-free days are over for specialty coffee roasters

the specialty coffee roasters market is competitive
  • Revenue in the global roasted coffee segment will be close to $300bn in 2023
  • The ICO projects that global coffee consumption will grow at a rate of 1.7% to 178.5 million 60kg bags in the 2022/23 crop year
  • Some believe the roaster market is reaching its peak, while others say there is still room for growth.

At the last count, Portland, Oregon was home to more than 40 coffee roasters, Los Angeles had 60, and Chicago and New York City had around 70. Over in Seattle, the home of Peet’s and Starbucks, an estimated 200 coffee roasters operate. And, even in Dallas, a city with just over a million people, there are approximately 50 businesses that roast coffee.

In short, the coffee roaster market in the US is saturated: a number of big roasters dominate the market, but dozens of smaller specialty coffee roasters compete for the remaining share across every single state.

The same story can be seen elsewhere around the world. As the top coffee-consuming region, Europe’s roasted coffee production was worth over €10 billion in 2020, with an annual growth rate of 3% between 2015 and 2020.

Like the US, the European market is dominated by a few large multinational roasting companies, such as Nestlé, JDE Peet’s, Melitta and Lavazza, and more big companies are entering the space. Italy alone, as the second-largest coffee-roasting industry in Europe, has about 150,000 espresso bars and other similar establishments.

Yet despite its numbers, the US market also continues to grow. According to estimates, there are around 1,500-2,000 coffee roasters in the country. But the US coffee roasting market is expected to continue growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.3% between 2022 and 2030.

With large companies taking such a significant portion of the market share, many new, smaller specialty coffee roasters are left wondering how they can sustain themselves.

Specialty coffee roasters must work hard to compete

Is the cup overflowing for specialty coffee roasters?  

The International Coffee Organisation reports that global coffee consumption grew by 4.2% in the coffee year 2021/22 (1 October – 30 September), with Europe and North America accounting for around half this volume.

While consumption is expected to continue growing, particularly in emerging markets such as Asia and the Middle East, the global market is becoming more consolidated. The ten-largest roasters in the world, including Nestlé, JDE Peets, and Starbucks, dominate the market, roasting 35% of the world’s coffee.

Increased global coffee consumption has led to growth in the coffee roasting industry, aided by a growing interest in specialty and a demand for specialty coffee roasters.

There were 24,290 shops serving specialty coffee in Western Europe in 2020, an 18% increase from 2018. Meanwhile, the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe estimates that 1,500 coffee roasters opened their doors in 2019.

Sergio Boppel owns Great Circle Coffee. Reflecting on the increase in specialty coffee roasters in Miami – a city that has taken slowly to specialty in favour of a coffee tradition rooted in Cuban culture – he says: “There’s definitely more awareness by consumers of what higher quality coffee can be and about the intentionality behind it.”

Soft commodities expert Judith Ganes, on the other hand, believes that the growth of the specialty market may be overstated. “Specialty coffee still only represents a small percentage of the total volume of coffee produced around the world, with some consumers unaware of what ‘specialty’ really means.”

However, she explains: “Rising global consumption of specialty coffee has helped the overall coffee market to grow, largely because of better marketing.”

Staying dynamic is crucial in the speciality coffee roasters market

Dynamism is crucial

In the late 1970s, only 89 craft beer breweries existed in the US. Now, the number is at nearly 6,400. Following the recent trends of mergers and acquisitions in the coffee industry, it’s possible that the speciality roasting segment could follow suit.

Matthew Harrison is a sourcing manager for coffee importing company Trabocca, whose main market is specialty coffee roasters. He believes stable volumes and growth in the specialty market, even during Covid-19, is a good indication that there is still room for competition.

“The coffee market is very dynamic, and it is constantly changing. We saw that through Covid. Coffee consumption remained pretty strong.”

Competition does also depend on the market. In a city like Amsterdam, where the population is quite young and consumers value sustainability and traceability, specialty coffee roasters have more of a chance to succeed. This may be different to a smaller market in a town that is more price-sensitive.

“A lot of it does come down to the consumer,” he adds. If a city has a higher population of millennials or Gen Z, they are more likely to demand high-quality coffee that provides a different experience.

Matthew says that while his regular clients remain consistent, they continue to receive a lot of interest from new, up-and-coming specialty coffee roasters. “I think the demand still seems to be there.

“There is still room for growth as long as they have something unique and different to offer,” he concludes.

With the top ten all producing majority dark roasts with bold and intense flavour profiles, the largest roasting companies are indeed fighting over market share. For now, there is still plenty of room for smaller players who set themselves apart. Whether or not that will remain the same in the coming years is uncertain.