Virtual events, like our cupping event with Ikawa, were a popular way for the coffee industry to stay connected.
From the way we drink coffee, to how it's sourced and sold, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a slew of unprecedented changes across virtually every sector of the coffee industry. Worldwide lockdowns, quarantines and business restrictions resulted in the painful closures of many coffee businesses; by the end of 2020, the US alone saw the number of coffee shops drop by about 7.3% (roughly 2,000 shops), the first decline since 2011.
The ingenuity, enterprising spirit and resilience of coffee people everywhere, however, were a few things that did not change in 2020. Coffee took a rough journey from seed to cup last year, but coffee growers, buyers, roasters, and even consumers found creative ways to keep the industry going. Given that we still have a long road ahead before life returns to some semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy, it’s likely that many of the newly acquired ways of consuming and selling coffee in 2020 are here to stay in 2021.
We spoke with Jorge Cuevas, Sustainable Harvest’s Chief Coffee Officer, and Monica Terveer, our Director of Sales, to take a closer look at a few of the trends we saw in 2020 and gain some insights into sourcing approaches and trends in 2021.
Single Origin + Higher End Coffees
If there’s anything we learned in 2020, it’s that it’ll take more than a global pandemic to keep people from getting their coffee fix! Because of lockdown restrictions and more people working from home, coffee consumption at cafés obviously plummeted—but that didn’t necessarily mean that consumers drank less coffee overall.
Instead, 2020 saw a big boost to home coffee consumption, with many people investing significantly in their home brew setup. According to a report compiled by the SCA and Square, by May 2020 coffee equipment sales had risen 11% with an average ticket price of $139. This suggests that consumers didn’t just brew more coffee at home, but that interest rose in higher end setups, perhaps to replicate café quality brews at home.
This has coincided with increased sales in single-origin offerings, “experimental” coffees, and more expensive coffees, in general.
“Normally, the typical customer ordering at their coffee shop on their way to work might just opt for the drip blend or whatever was being pulled as espresso that day,” Monica explained. “In that moment at the register, most customers don’t have much time to really explore their options, or it would be up to the barista to push special, featured coffees. But now people have the option to go online, explore, and ‘shop around.’ Consumers have the opportunity to spend more time looking at different product offerings and learning about new coffees. Consumers have become more discerning with their coffee choices and there’s ultimately been more interest driven towards single-origin and experimental coffees.”
Experimental natural processing of coffees from Argopuro in Java
Overall, it seems as though the average coffee drinker has become more selective about the coffees they choose to brew at home, and these habits are likely to continue in 2021 (as we’re sure many of us can attest to, once you’ve tasted the really good stuff, it can be hard to go back!). If you haven’t yet, now would be the time to consider putting your top microlots, limited SO’s, and funky anaerobic naturals front and center on your menu.
Subscription Services and Online Ordering
Not surprisingly, coffee subscriptions also saw a sharp uptick: the SCA reported a 109% increase in subscriptions in the US. Given that the return to “office life” will be slow in 2021—or nonexistent, in many cases—it’s safe to say that subscriptions, and purchasing coffee online in general, will only continue to rise in popularity this year.
The increased interest in subscriptions is true for both third-party services that feature a wide range of different roasters and for roaster specific subscriptions. “Depending on the person, some may stick to one roaster and cycle through the entire product line of that roaster,” Monica mentioned.
This could also be one of the reasons why 2020 saw higher sales of more limited, higher-end coffee offerings; by default of having a subscription, consumers are receiving coffees they might not have otherwise tried on their own. Presumably, a significant portion of these consumers enjoyed their curated picks enough to continue ordering coffees of similar quality and profile.
Overall, coffee drinkers are buying more coffee online than ever before. In fact, according to some of our roaster partners, traditional shopping holidays in the US—like Black Friday—saw upwards of 500-900% increases in sales compared to the same day in 2019.
For 2021, we highly recommend roasters invest in their digital presence and online platforms, and to diversify both your sales channels and product offerings. If you haven’t already, definitely start offering subscriptions!
Speaking of diversifying sales channels and products, here are a few other trends we saw in 2020 that would be worth keeping in mind for 2021:
Other Consumer Trends to Keep in Mind
- RTD Beverages. Out of all beverage categories in 2020, single serve, Ready-To-Drink beverages saw the most growth out of all other products. This makes sense: as coffee shops have had to pivot to offering takeout only, and as people try to limit the time they spend at coffee shops, quick grab-and-go options have become more appealing.
- Grocery Store/Supermarket Sales. For the homebrewers who aren’t as inclined to do all of their shopping online, grocery stores and supermarkets were the next best place to explore their options and 2020 definitely saw a big rise in coffee sales through these channels. Work with both your local, neighborhood markets in addition to the bigger outlets to get your coffee on as many shelves as possible!
- Delivery and Drive-Thru. This may not be an option for everyone, but if it’s logistically possible for your operation, consider implementing a drive-thru option for your café. If you’re in a densely populated, urban area, adding delivery options could be an easy way to increase sales.
Stay tuned for our next blogpost where we chat with Jorge to learn his insights for sourcing in 2021, keeping in mind some of these trends!