Brewing up excitement

Coffee love remains strong, according to a new CAC study, but Canadian consumers are thirsty for innovation
Four various coffee cups top view set isolated on white

Even amidst the upheaval of pandemic times, Canadians’ coffee consumption has stayed steady, show the latest results of the Coffee Association of Canada’s (CAC) annual Canadian Coffee Drinking Trends Study.

If anything, the pandemic has proven that Canadians still love their coffee even if they’re drinking it at home, says CAC president Robert Carter, pointing to study results showing that seven in 10 Canadians will have consumed a coffee in the past day (the study measures past-day consumption). “Now, in the later months of 2021 we are still in recovery mode, but coffee as an entire category did not see a decline during the pandemic compared to other sectors,” says Carter. “In the grocery store category, we know that coffee sales have increased.”

Similar to other food and beverage categories, the shift to in-home consumption of coffee increased during the pandemic. As of August 2021, 23% of survey respondents said they had a coffee prepared out-of-home the previous day, compared to pre-pandemic levels of 40%. Even as COVID-19 restrictions lift and “normal” life resumes, Carter expects in-home coffee habits to stay strong, especially as more and more people continue to work from home.

That there was no decline in the consumption of espresso-based beverages during the pandemic suggests coffee drinkers are finding ways to make their favourite beverages at home, too. “In-home consumption should continue to be a bigger part of overall consumption and it’s certainly larger today than it was pre-pandemic,” he says.

While java consumption habits stay strong, what is changing is the desire for innovative coffee products. “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in cold coffee consumption, not only out-of-home but even in the ready-to-drink category for cold brews,” explains Carter. “We’ve seen a lot of innovation with the smaller manufacturers introducing these niche products and consumers are really responding.”

Just as beer drinkers are expressing a growing fondness for Canadian microbrewers and unique beer blends, he says coffee tastes are evolving in a similar vein. “People are looking for unique micro roasters and when you get smaller new players into a category, it can be exciting in terms of flavour profiles,” he says. The research showed that coffee roasters saw a shift in delivery volumes, with more deliveries going to grocery stores and fewer to food-service outlets. Many roasters had also established direct-to-consumer delivery channels.


Carter believes grocers have a great opportunity to hone in on current trends by expanding their variety of coffee products. “That could mean providing some of the unique niche offerings consumers are really responding to,” he says. “If it were me manning my coffee category, I’d be focusing on the upscaling and uniqueness of the category to create a real point of difference.”

By looking to some of the current innovative direct-to-consumer channels (such as online coffee subscription programs), Carter says grocers, too, can get creative with their coffee offerings. “Perhaps you provide all the ingredients needed for consumers to become their own specialty baristas at home,” he says. “You see grocers doing that in other categories where they provide different menu items and recipes, and it works.”

With the growing number of socially conscious consumers these days, he says sustainability is also a key ask when it comes to coffee purchases. This means grocers need to be able to provide information that will satisfy questions around the sustainable sourcing of coffee beans, country of origin, etc.

“I find when grocers treat coffee like just a commodity, there’s no excitement to it,” says Carter. “There’s definitely opportunity to add more education and innovation in this category.”

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer'November 2021 issue.


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