While the iced coffee category has been performing well in the UK market, it is cold brew coffee that is really stealing the limelight. Discover why it is becoming so popular with consumers and how retailers and brand owners can benefit.

In the UK, consumption of ready-to-drink iced coffee showed double-digit growth throughout 2023, with the category being labelled as one of the best-performing in terms of growth [Euromonitor].

However, it’s the category’s latest newcomer, ready-to-drink (RTD) cold brew coffee, which is capturing the headlines after astronomically fast growth in the US over the last 15 years. Cold brew has seen consumption in the UK increase by 60% in the last three years [Nielsen] but what is driving this popularity and why should beverage brand owners and retailers be paying attention?

What is cold brew coffee?

Cold brew coffee is extracted from coffee beans slowly and gently, using ambient or cool water, instead of rapidly in hot water. This technique helps to extract the finest flavours from the bean, resulting in lower acidity, a rich flavour, natural sweetness and a smooth taste. This brewing technique results in ‘pure cold brew’, which is simply water and coffee. It is the exciting flavours derived from this process that are helping to drive pure cold brew’s appeal and differentiate it versus existing iced coffee drinks, which are typically supplemented with instant coffee.

Is cold brew coffee an iced coffee?

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As cold brew emerges in the UK, consumers are starting to learn the difference between ’cold brew coffee’ and ’iced coffee’. While iced coffee can be made with cold brew, a typical iced coffee is made using hot brewed coffee that is chilled down. This leads to a more acidic and bitter taste and usually needs added flavours, sweeteners, milk or dairy alternatives.

Cold brew coffee, on the other hand, with its complex flavour profile and natural sweetness, offers a rich sensory experience and can be enjoyed in its plain black format served straight over ice without the need for additional ingredients. Of course, cold brew can be enjoyed with added flavours too, offering flexibility for serving and formats. Cold brew coffee delivers a premium, sensorial experience that can help beverage brand owners and retailers tap into the next wave of iced coffee trends.

What do consumers think about cold brew coffee?

Global consumer research highlights a number of trends that are driving the growth of cold brew. 63% of consumers are seeking premium experiences that emphasise unique brew methods, craft, artisan credentials and origin [Global] and cold brew coffee delivers on all these elements.

83% of consumers expect innovative flavours and new experiences in convenient grab-and-go formats to fit in with their busy lifestyles and cold brew provides the base for this innovation [Global] either packaged in cans and bottles ready for high street store fridges or as a coffee shop menu staple ready for flavour personalisation. Unlike hot coffee, which is often reserved for the morning, cold brew offers a refreshing experience suitable for any time of day, providing more selling opportunities.

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With the iced coffee market expanding, cold brew coffee offers the differentiation for beverage brand owners and retailers in terms of quality and taste, with 90% of consumers willing to pay a premium for this offering [Global]. In the UK, the average price per unit of cold brew is £2.16 in comparison to £1.76 for iced coffees [Nielsen]. These differentials provide a big opportunity to drive further growth and higher value into the category.

Looking at the area of healthier beverages, 86% of consumers say health credentials influence their choice of beverages and many consumers are turning to cold brew to provide this option [Global]. Because of its natural sweetness, cold brew doesn’t rely on added sugar to provide flavour and, with a natural source of caffeine, it taps into the demand for healthier energy drinks too.

How can beverage brand owners and retailers ensure they launch a cold brew to meet UK consumers’ demands?

Finlays is a leading independent B2B supplier of tea, coffee and extract ingredient solutions worldwide. Its heritage, as a leading coffee supplier, dates back to 1911. Today, Finlays also boasts the accolade of the world’s biggest extractor of cold brew coffee and it is this new product manufacturing expertise that has been brought to customers in the UK and Europe.

Following a multi-million-pound investment into a new cold brew coffee facility in Hull, Finlays is now producing cold brew in a variety of options and multiple RTD solutions for private-label customers across the UK and Europe.

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Finlays explains that skilled craftmanship is needed to make a premium-quality cold brew and that European customers should be looking for a manufacturer that can provide full traceability and quality assurance on its beans as the start for a high-quality product.

Experience of roasting beans to the desired levels and grinding to precisely calibrated levels are essential to delivering the extraction of the best flavours from the coffee. This also ensures clarity and brightness of the liquor, as well as optimal flavour.

For further enhancement, Finlays recommends steeping the roasted and ground coffee in ambient-temperature filtered water in a reduced oxygen environment to start the extraction and generate the best flavours possible. Triple-filtering the cold brew and gentle extraction help to preserve the character and full-bodied flavour of the coffee.

For the ultimate delivery of a quality product the cold brew is recommended to be stored in an inert atmosphere to avoid oxygen contact which stabilises and enhances the shelf life.

The UK and Europe are now at the start of their cold brew journey, and the road ahead is very exciting. Embracing premium-quality cold brew solutions means beverage brand owners and retailers can create the perfect on-trend drink to excite consumers.

To find out more about cold brew coffee visit https://www.finlays.net/product-solution/cold-brew-coffee-europe/