Photo: Starbucks

The Next Chapter of Coffee

Coronavirus is ushering in fourth-wave coffee — does that mean quick caffeine or $65 luxury brews?

For the past six months, people across the globe have changed every aspect of their life. Although your daily cup of coffee may seem as simple as brushing your teeth in the morning, the coffee industry affects millions around the world. A 2011 Business Insider piece says that coffee farms are the economic livelihood of over 25 million people and 90 percent of coffee product happens in developing countries. A big impact for something that’s an afterthought for most people, and those numbers have most certainly gone up in the past ten years.

Coffee in quarantine

For many professionals living in metropolitan areas, the daily stop at Starbucks or the local cafe on the way to work was a simple habit. Once offices shut down and restaurants and shops followed, employment in “food services and drinking places” dropped by 5.5 million in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of Nestlé revealed that third of American adults are making coffee at home more often that ever before and two thirds said they’ve perfected coffee making. Due to the mass layoffs of service workers and copious amounts of free time, several baristas joined to create the Quarantine Coffee Project to set up a “creative, fun and tasty coffee quarantine experience.” The Instagram page is filled with coffee recipes and best practices.

People stuck at home earlier this year finally had time to explore more complex coffee brewing techniques like pour over. Josh Barro of New York Magazine writes “Personally, I’m one of the people who bought an OXO coffee maker in the spring quarter. My own coffee-at-home consumption has markedly increased, and I’ve been buying less prepared coffee in shops.”

Assuming this is the narrative for most consumers, the question is once in-person work resumes everywhere, will people continue using brands like Chemex and Hario, or resort to more convenient options like instant mix or mobile pickup?

Photo: CNN

Last month, CNN Travel reported on the Queens of Mayfair coffee shop in London which was serving a $65 coffee that was ground and brewed at the table by patrons’ personal barista and served in a crystal wine glass. The Ethiopian beans won first place in the Cup of Excellence competition and were more than half way sold out when the article was published.

While this sounds nice, there may be some more realistic alternatives.

Quick and convenient

Instant coffee has historically been considered lower quality but several startups are trying to tackle the issue of taste with convenience. Sudden Coffee, started in San Francisco in 2015, offered instant coffee packets from specialty roasters across the country before they discontinued operations this year. They claimed to be “Better Than Starbucks!” Brands like Swift Cup Coffee and VOILA offer similar versions in the $2–3 price range.

Coca-Cola (KO) is introducing a new version of its namesake soda called Coca-Cola With Coffee in hopes to manage the decline of soft drink consumption. The drink will be available starting in January 2021 and has three flavors: Dark Blend, Vanilla, and Caramel. Coca-Cola originally launched a coffee soft drink in 2006, but it was discontinued in 2008. Coca-Cola has been trying to diversify its lineup with AHA sparkling water and Coca-Cola Energy, but some soda alternatives like its Zico coconut water and Odwalla juice brands have recently been discontinued.

However, the bigger opportunity may be in mobile ordering solutions. Starbucks’ digital orders made up 22 percent of transactions in Q3 of this year and Chipotle’s digital orders made up about 70 percent of transactions in May of this year.

Starbucks’ Mobile Order & Pay app paired with its loyalty program makes it efficient and rewarding to not make coffee at home or wait in a store line. The company is also rolling out curbside delivery to hundreds of stores in the near future.

A post-COVID coffee lifestyle may not look like a Michelin-starred dining experience every day, but rather pressing a few buttons and having your favorite drink delivered to your car or a pickup window. Either way, consumers will still be willing to shell out a few dollars for a quality brew if they’re short on sleep.

Perspectives on the consumer & retail industries, and the brands trying to upend them

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