You may have seen the recent McDonald’s ad campaign. Customers who want a simple coffee are flummoxed by a litany of ridiculous offerings, from £9 special brews to drinks that come with more parts than a car. This humorous dig at the ‘hipster’ coffee trend that swept across the Atlantic in recent years hints at a deeper shift in the coffee market. While the Starbucks phenomenon brought variety and introduced specialities to our coffee habits, recent moves have seen producers and customers champion quality over all else.
From Costa investing heavily in its new Fresco offering and the promotion of its single-origin brews, to the Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz stepping down to focus on the exclusive Reserve brand, a fifth wave of coffee consumption is being pounced on by the biggest brands - with quality at its heart. The fifth wave is being viewed in the industry as the commercialisation of artisan coffee. It takes the scientific practices and quality focus of smaller producers and boutique coffee shops and applies it on a commercialised scale.
The dawn of this new age of coffee points to a much better informed customer than days gone by. While the UK relied for many years on instant, the past two decades have seen sales of this drop dramatically. But times have changed once more. The provenance of the bean and blend of the brew are highly regarded by today’s more coffee-literate audience. The millennial customer now shies away from a poor quality blend in the same way the previous generation turned their noses up at instant.
So what will this fifth wave of coffee look like in practice?
It will see advances in science and technology meet a greater focus on the quality and origin of the bean. More emphasis will be placed on sustainability, provenance and blend. In other words, quality will be king.
This trend won’t just come to fruition in leading coffee shop outlets. It will be replicated across retail products, coffee pods for home use, and throughout the hospitality industry. The market is waking up to the reality that quality now rules and that new technology can make mass production of higher-end products a feasible undertaking. Coffee pod makers such as Keurig place huge emphasis on the quality and freshness of its blends, committing to only using speciality grade arabica coffee, and are seeing a rising demand in the UK for this approach. Other examples such as Caffè Nero’s purchase of Harris+Hoole indicates the desire to marry mass market appeal with an artisanal, quality-centric brand identity. Costa’s investment in showcasing single origin blends through innovative brew methods further highlights the focus on provenance.
As this trend continues, offering the perfect cup will become the ambition of all those involved in the industry - from hipster cafés to conglomerate caterers. New technology, consumer willingness to pay more, and a burgeoning understanding of what quality looks, smells and tastes like, will see a new generation of coffee offerings make their mark on the UK scene.
Matthew Tuffee is head of foodservice UK & Ireland at Keurig Green Mountain