In news that’s perhaps not too surprising, according to recent research conducted by the National Coffee Association, COVID-19 has kept coffee drinkers at home, impacting where Americans buy and drink coffee and decreasing their "away from home" coffee consumption by almost 20 percent. And yet, as noted in the NCA findings, more than one-third of consumers miss visiting coffee shops and "more than half of Americans have already returned to coffee shops or plan to do so in the next month."

Mirroring the dramatic rise in popularity of online food and beverage grocery shopping and restaurant ordering we've been reporting in Hartman Group/FMI research, NCA also reports that online purchases of coffee have apparently jumped by 57% as coffee buyers "cut back on trips to the supermarket." Specifically, NCA notes "When buying coffee to drink at home, Americans decreased purchases in grocery and "big box" stores, while increasing purchases in club stores, online, coffee shops, and using apps, delivery, and drive-through options." 

Still a favorite beverage of Americans (6 in 10 drink coffee daily), Hartman Retainer Services notes that coffee continues to mature as a category, with new quality cues emerging as "third wave" (e.g. high-quality, premium) coffee becomes further entrenched in our national coffee culture – especially for those most engaged with the beverage. One example: The rise of pour-over drip coffee emerging as a trend out of coffee houses and entering home use, notably during the pandemic. 

Resulting from different experiences and expectations relating to coffee (and beverages more generally), younger consumers are seeking out new flavors and taste experiences, innovative formats, and convenient options. These trends are especially relevant to cold coffee and ready-to-drink (RTD) coffee but can infiltrate all coffee formats. Consumers are even interested in the health promoting aspects of coffee: Our Functional Food & Beverage and Supplements 2020 report demonstrates coffee as a vehicle for functionality, and while consumers currently prefer such characteristics in juices and waters at a higher rate, among those who currently consume functional beverages, 39% are interested in trying coffee with added functional benefits. 

As they purchase and consume coffee, consumers assess its quality, regardless of format, by examining four levels of production: What’s in it, how’s it made, who made it, and how’s it packaged, with the more engaged coffee consumers (and more engaged shoppers generally) more likely to consider more attributes at each stage. With heightened concern around sustainability, packaging is increasingly scrutinized. The type of packaging used, and what happens afterward, can have real implications to the carbon footprint of coffee – especially in more convenient formats such as RTD and single-cup. 

Consumers are beginning to question the trade-off of environmental sustainability in relation to convenient packaged foods and beverages, and any cues that can make a product seem more sustainable are more likely to gain traction. Special considerations: While many of the quality concerns about packaging echo through any format of coffee, they may be especially resonant with bagged ground/whole bean coffee (the most common format). Within RTD and cold brew, there is more concern about what’s in such beverages, as these drinks are inherently more processed. 

More information: