Luckin’s chocolate-flavoured Moutai latte shows what Chinese consumers want

  • Luckin Coffee and Kweichow Moutai have released a chocolate-flavoured alcoholic “latte” with 0.5% ABV
  • This is one of two collaborations announced on the same day for Luckin, showing how important “novelty” is for coffee consumers
  • This shows how the chain is focused on coffee being an ingredient, rather than a beverage in its own right

ON 22 January, Luckin Coffee and Kweichow Moutai, the producer of Maotai baijiu liquor, launched a chocolate-flavoured alcoholic latte in celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year. Moutai is a spirit that contains 53% alcohol, with each serving of Luckin’s beverage containing less than 0.5% alcohol by volume.

The Maotai-flavoured chocolate drink uses whole milk and Maotai-infused thick milk/cream, meaning Luckin can avoid adding Maotai baijiu bottles to their stores.

This marks the second collaboration between the two brands, following the “sauce-flavoured latte”. This first product of the partnership emerged as one of Luckin’s most important revenue sources over the last year, at one point selling 5.4 million cups in a single day.

This partnership is part of Kwiechow Moutai’s strategy to reach younger audiences. Conversely, for Luckin, this allows them to associate with a historic heritage brand which is well-known across the country.

This is also further evidence that hard coffee could be making a comeback. Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks have both notably recently added alcoholic beverages to their menu. However, there is one definitive difference with Luckin’s latest release.

Is coffee now just an ingredient?

The Maotai-flavoured chocolate drink doesn’t contain any coffee – much like a matcha or chai latte.

For some time, there has been a growing trend for developing drinks where coffee is a component or ingredient rather than the singular focus. We can see this in the growing trend of customisable coffee beverages using flavoured syrups, which are far more prominent in branded coffee shops than high-scoring single origin lots.

There is plenty of evidence to support this shift in consumer behaviour. For example, ready-to-drink (RTD) coffee is among the fastest-growing segments in the industry – and many products are mixed with plant milks and a wide range of other ingredients to achieve certain flavours.

Similarly, a growing demand for customisation, largely driven by Generation Z and young millennial consumers, is leading coffee shops to add more flavours and syrups to their menus.

“Generation Z sees coffee as an ingredient – something that can be mixed with many things, rather than something standalone,” says Felipe Cabrera, general manager at Ad Astra Consulting. “Southeast Asia’s coffee sector more widely is following [customisation] trends too, as mostly their new coffee consumers are millennials and Gen Z. That’s the future for the coffee market in China.”

Not only are the flavours being introduced becoming increasingly unconventional, but comparisons with the growing number of flavours of milk teas and a wider range of plant milks show that customisation clearly resonates with younger consumers.

Luckin's latte represents the future of coffee

Younger consumers want novelty and customisation

This product release demonstrates another trend for Chinese coffee shops: coffee shop chains don’t think single origin coffees are cool anymore – the focus is instead on Instagrammable, customisable beverages.

This reflects a broader trend in the coffee industry, where the experience and novelty of the product are often just as important as the product itself. Luckin’s approach isn’t just about offering something unique that can’t be easily replicated at home or found in other traditional coffee shops – it also aims to make their customers feel like they are experiencing something new and exciting, with an air of exclusivity around the limited edition product.

In line with this, Luckin announced two other collaborations on the same day as releasing the chocolate-alcohol beverage, including the release of Jackson Yee-related merchandise – the coffee chain’s global ambassador.

Felipe reiterates that this is being driven by younger generations in China – but that it reflects a wider shift in the industry. Newer consumers aren’t chasing traceable, high-scoring coffees and innovative brewing methods – they want a never-ending chain of new experimental drinks mixed with a huge range of ingredients.

“Coffee isn’t an ‘aspirational’ product in this way any more,” Felipe says. “Customers are more interested in a wider range of flavours being added to coffee; fruit syrups, a mix of milk teas and coffee, and so on.”

But ultimately, this collaboration doesn’t just symbolise the direction that Chinese coffee culture is going in – it also reflects what we’re seeing on a global scale with the explosive growth of RTD, plant milks, and other similar categories associated with novelty and customisation. 

It does, however, indicate that consumers in China are excited by a wider range of more unconventional flavours as far as customisation is concerned. Even though the last 12 months have seen Starbucks mix coffee with olive oil and mushroom coffee gathering speed around the world, this coffee-free alcoholic “latte” is a different direction.

Altogether, this shows that Luckin is focused on coffee as an ingredient – and that approach is clearly something which resonates with the Chinese coffee market. But this trend is becoming more present outside of China too. The real question is how long coffee can remain the star of the show – or if the rest of the world will follow suit in time.

Coffee Intelligence

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