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As many Americans turn their attention to the chilly days of winter there is a collective embrace of warmer beverages — most notably the numerous varieties of coffee available to U.S. consumers. Savvy restaurant operators bent on capturing a larger share of the market as the mercury drops know that menuing creative, customized variations on this prized brew can boost the bottom line.
“We will continue to see customization and more flavors,” says David Commer, president of Commer Beverage Consulting. “I think it is part of this macro trend where people are demanding what they want, when they want it and how they want it.”
“Customization continues to be one of the most important components of a strong away-from-home coffee bar program as more consumers seek different ways to create the perfect cup of coffee and more away-from-home operators explore ways to differentiate themselves from the competition,” he says.
“Considering [the majority] of consumers aged 18-plus drink coffee daily and more than 80 percent use both creamer and sweeteners, it’s imperative that operators have the right mix of cream and flavor options that can help satisfy current customers’ needs and at the same attract new consumers.”
On average, 54 percent of Americans over the age of 18 drink coffee every day and consume an average of 3.1 cups daily at 9 ounces per cup, according to the National Coffee Association.
Coffee trends for the winter months in large measure mirror broader shifts affecting the entire foodservice industry, many of which are driven by the ever-influential millennials. Environmental sustainability and food waste management — for example, coffee farmers remove the skin of the bean and turn it into coffee flour that can be used for baking — are two of the Top 20 Food Trends cited in the National Restaurant Association’s 2016 Culinary Forecast.
Similarly Maeve Webster, president of Menu Matters, a trends analyst, notes, “Preparation and sourcing seem to be the focus of many coffee trends. From a preparation point of view, it’s either roasting preparation or preparation for consumers such as cold brew and slow pour,” she says. “These are prevalent enough that Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks have both gotten into it.”
Commer agrees. “Cold Brew is hot,” he says. “A year ago it was getting some press and a few companies were testing it. Now it is being rolled out at a fast pace, and retail companies are packaging it for making in the home with no special equipment.”
Other coffee trends include flavored varieties and specialty varieties that use highly flavored beans produced in special microclimates. In addition, industry observers are citing the growing importance of other such trends as Organic Fairly Traded Coffee, iced versions, flavored creamers, custom blends, coffee-based cocktails and desserts, coffee-infused spice rubs for savory dishes and after-dinner drinks.
Flavored coffees have taken off in a huge way with such customized offerings as maple walnut, bacon, coconut, mocha, caramel, peppermint, the ubiquitous pumpkin spice, and lavender and lemon lattes.
“I think most flavors will continue to focus on sweet or dessert-inspired flavors, but longer term we may begin to see more savory options that play off the savory notes of coffee with sweet adding complexity rather than leading as the primary flavor,” predicts Webster.
Andrew Freeman, owner and president of Andrew Freeman & Co., restaurant and hospitality consultants, likewise sees a burst of flavored alternatives as the temperature drops .
“For casual and quick-service restaurants and cafes I do see more flavors and flavored creamers gaining in popularity. Everyone loves flavors and when you can custom-create your own drink, it’s more fun and on-trend with the experience-driven market,” he says. “The millennials love custom-creating just about everything. Creamers give coffee lovers the option to custom-create their own flavors.”
International Delight, for example, offers a line of Flavored Creamer Singles for coffee bars including such flavors as French Vanilla, Hazelnut, Irish Crème, Hershey’s® Chocolate Caramel, Cold Stone Creamery® Sweet Cream, and more .
Webster says flavored creamers are especially good for restaurants. “It’s a lot easier for restaurants and retail outlets to offer a variety of creamers than flavored syrups,” she says.
“First, flavored syrups can take up a great deal more space, and second, if you don’t have someone on hand to manage the application of flavored syrups, it can easily increase costs significantly and potentially decrease satisfaction with the experience if a patron applies too much,” she adds.
Gira says creamers are particularly important to attract millennials and help drive trial.
“As younger consumers begin drinking coffee, they tend to use more cream than older generations. Ninety three percent of 18- to 24-year-old coffee consumers use cream versus 71 percent of consumers aged 65-plus,” he says. “Having an optimized coffee bar with the right assortment of flavored creamers is critical as these consumers enter the coffee category.”
“Offering the right assortment can ensure a high-quality experience that can help drive trial, repeat purchase and overall loyalty,” Gira continues. “Additionally, operators recognize the operational efficiency that creamers, especially portion-control creamers, can provide. They’re easy to use, they don’t require any prep, there’s no product waste and if managed properly they can help reduce the operator’s need for additional coffee varietals, which may end up being disposed of at the end of the day.”
Meanwhile, specialty coffee sales are increasing by 20 percent annually and account for nearly 8 percent of the $18 billion U.S. coffee market, according to the National Coffee Association. The Specialty Coffee Association of America deems coffee that scores 80 points or above on a 100-point scale as graded “specialty.”
“The trend has been for a finer appreciation of coffees meticulously crafted and traceable in their sourcing,” says Luigi Di Ruocco, vice president of Mr. Espresso, an Oakland, Calif.-based roaster in the Italian tradition.
“Consumers want to know who grew it, and they are willing to pay a premium for an elevated experience. They are looking for coffees that allow the unique nuances to come through,” he says.
Freeman says custom blends are likely to see growth in restaurants.
“To stay competitive and creative I think roasters will continue to develop custom blends,” he says. “At restaurants I do think having signature blends developed exclusively for them will also continue to rise.”
He also predicts partnerships between restaurants and well-known brands will increase. “As we all know, every coffee lover professes their affection for their brand — so restaurants that partner with brands may also see increased interest from their partner’s coffee-loving fans.”