Data shows convenient coffee is thriving, even as consumers’ priorities shift   

takeaway coffee running
  • New data shows that we’re still dealing with the ramifications of a global pandemic, as consumers increasingly prioritise convenience
  • The convenience services industry is set to reach a revenue of more than $40 billion by 2028 marked by a return to office and less time
  • Meanwhile, consumers’ priorities have shifted – low quality “fast” coffee and high quality “fancy” coffee are out, and convenient coffee that tastes good and does good is in 

As the economy becomes more fast-paced, so is coffee. Convenience as one of the biggest drivers of growth and innovation across the global coffee industry is no big news. However, definitions of convenience and consumer preferences within it are changing.

The convenience services industry annual revenue is estimated to have reached $26.6 billion in 2023, for the first time matching the industry’s pre-pandemic revenue level. 

With a gradual return to office combined with the pressures of inflation, people have less time, and less disposable income – making convenience king.

The findings from The State of Convenience Services: A 2022-2023 Industry Census, just released by the NAMA Foundation, suggest an overall long-awaited recovery with a projected 9% average annual revenue growth rate through 2028. By this time, the convenience services industry is expected to reach a revenue of more than $40 billion.

The report cites micro markets – self-service retail spaces typically found within a larger workplace or commercial environment – as the primary driver of convenience industry growth. Representing just 2% of its revenue in 2014, micro market revenue has increased at a rate of 41% annually since 2020. 

Coffee – including specialty – sector dynamics align with this data, with RTD, cold coffee and retail identified as some of the overarching trends defining the coffee industry this year

According to NAMA, 82% of convenience services operators sell coffee, with 36% offering coffee in most or all micro markets. Around half of the coffee machines in these spaces are single-cup brewers and serve bean-to-cup coffee, showing that while convenience is trending, so are freshness and quality.

This is a departure from the 20th century-style convenience of cheap instant coffee, and more in line with the growth of ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages and capsules we’re seeing today. 

While convenience experienced a brief hiatus during the pandemic, today, all evidence shows that it’s trending strongly again, but for different reasons and with different expectations.

The great “return to office” is driving convenience

The global pandemic and its associated lockdowns and work from home practices caused a shift in the way people consumed. Exceptional circumstances created exceptional consumer behaviour overall, and the way people drank coffee changed.

According to NCA’s Spring 2021 National Coffee Data Trends report, pandemic restrictions cut away-from-home coffee preparation by 30%, and workplace preparation by 55%. With physical restrictions and more time on people’s hands, home preparation went up to record highs.

“COVID made for lean times for coffee shops as consumers shifted to at-home preparation,” says Spencer Ross, Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. “You saw some growth in specialty coffee in particular, as consumers could not go to a shop, but also had more time to make coffee from home. This drove sales in various types of brewing methods, as well as growth in the purchase of higher quality beans.”

Fast-forward four years, and we’re now seeing a rapid recovery of the convenience service sector as consumers return to pre-pandemic habits and behaviour – the main message of the NAMA Foundation’s report. They need coffee that is low-effort and quick to suit busy lifestyles.

On the other hand, the pandemic left an indelible mark on many consumers’ experience of coffee. During that time, many took on the role of the barista to fill that gap, and acquired a new level of knowledge and experience. While they need convenience, they now also want better taste.

“If consumers started to change their beans from a bag of Dunkin to a bag of Onyx, they may not be going back to Dunkin so quickly,” says Spencer. 

“However, if they’re 9-5ing it back at the office again, they don’t have time to make V60s in the morning. So now they want something convenient. Cometeer or xBloom or some other tech that allows them to brew higher quality coffee with less effort are some solutions they might be looking at.”

Convenience is important, but not at the cost of taste and sustainability

There was an expectation that as business as usual resumed post-pandemic, so would consumer behaviour – including an overall global preference for convenience and lower prices over quality and sustainability.

However, having had more time to explore coffee and food preparation and taste has undeniably reshaped consumption.

In 2022, research from the National Coffee Association found that specialty coffee consumption in the US experienced a 20% increase from January 2021. Meanwhile, Europe currently has the largest share of the global specialty coffee market at around 46.2%. The Asia-Pacific specialty coffee market is also marked to experience a 15.3% annual growth rate from now until 2030.

So on one hand, convenience is still driving coffee market growth, but on the other, consumers are more interested in quality and taste than they were before. While specialty coffee may embody a more leisurely approach to consumption, it is not immune to the allure of convenience

“I’m guilty of buying Black & White instant coffee packets when travelling to specialty coffee deserts,” says Spencer. “Does that make me any less of a specialty coffee drinker?”

Many specialty coffee roasters and cafes have embraced the trend by offering pre-packaged beans, single-serve pods, and RTD cold brew options that cater to on-the-go consumers without compromising on quality.

Apart from exploring and quality, the time-out during the pandemic also allowed people to reflect more deeply on where products come from and how they’re made. Supply chain issues also brought unsustainable practices to the fore and growing concerns for consumers.

This has generated more consumer demand for sustainable products. Research finds that in 2022, three of the top five trending priorities for specialty coffee drinkers were a fair price for farmers, ethical sourcing, and environmental sustainability.

The strong consumer demand for convenience may mean some loss of the slow food movement in specialty coffee, but its core values of quality, good taste and sustainability still remain. 

Convenience is undeniably a driver for growth for all segments of the coffee market. However, it seems it’s become more of a need than a preference, and coffee drinkers now want better and more meaningful choices when it comes to convenient coffee, meaning market players will need to keep upping their game. 

Coffee Intelligence

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