Coffee Futures

With a reported 6 in 10 drinking it daily, coffee has been deemed “America’s favorite beverage”[1], but we’ve found a lot of tinkering going on both inside and outside of the cup. Whether impacted by the pandemic, influenced by macro trends driving consumer behavior across all categories, or latching onto micro trends in the beverage category itself, coffee is evolving. Here are some examples beyond nitro and cold-brewed:

At Home. Lockdowns, distance learning, WFH, as well as limited café seating have shifted coffee consumption to the home, but analysts are divided on its long-term outlook. While the pendulum currently hovers in the at-home consumption camp, retail brands are targeting the amateur barista with DIY recipes, as well as improving their digital experience to better facilitate takeout and delivery.[2] In addition, we see momentum with instant coffee, where global sales are projected to grow +2.5%[3], buoyed by the Dalgona craze and prompting Starbucks and Nestle to team up on a premium Medium and Dark Roast version for sale overseas.[4]

Whipped coffee

Craft Brewed. Consumer desire for personalization, heightened experiences and authenticity contribute to the +143% growth predicted between 2018 and 2025 in this “next boom industry”.[5] Look for more emphasis on origin stories and the elevation of coffee “as an art form”[6], taking a cue from the craft cocktail movement.

Edible. While coffee-infused foods are nothing new, coffee as a food is. We see fine-ground coffee beans being combined with cocoa butter and new techniques to produce bars like Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee Thins and Nudge Butters.[7]

Hybrids. The last 12 months have delivered a rash of coffee-blended beverages. In fact, “coffee is being integrated into everything from sparkling beverages to energy drinks to juices”.[8]  Both Pepsi[9] and Coca-Cola[10] have debuted coffee-flavored colas either domestically or internationally, hard coffees have been rolled out by beer brands,[11] “coffee juices – iced fruit drinks topped with cold coffee” are brewing on the East Coast,[12] and Ocean Spray has created a non-alcoholic shandy pairing Cranberry Lemonade with Cold Brew Coffee.[13]

Functional. Nearly 7 in 10 U.S. adults are interested in wellness benefits via beverages, with 4 in 10 interested in enhancing sports & fitness performance.[14]  WORKOUT coffee intends to deliver, armed with a patented black tea extract and clinical research to support pre-workout and sports recovery claims.[15]

Sustainable. In response to global coffee bean crops negatively impacted by climate change, coffee rust and limited arable land, two entrants are raising eyebrows. Atomo Coffee, a startup with over $10M in VC funding that has developed an alternative coffee to mimic the beverage without the bean[16], and Jolt – a shelf-stable, coffee concentrate whose small, liquid volume reduces the burden on shipping and therefore, carbon footprint.[17]

Despite all of this innovation, we feel compelled as coffee lovers to recommend a few ideas of our own. First, attempt to relieve stay-at-home-fatigue. Consider sending consumers on a trip around the world via LTO specialty drinks inspired by the flavors of the globe. Enhance the sensorial experience, experimenting with garnishes or textures. Enable mental and physical self-care pushing both flavor and health. Try swapping tap water with flavored, infused or functional waters like coconut, rose, birch, water kefir or chlorophyll water. And finally, be holistic in sustainable offerings, considering not just origin stories and footprint, but packaging as well.

[1] “Need for comfort, energy will carry coffee through coronavirus, pave path for post-pandemic growth”, Food Navigator, 4/03/20
[2] “Coffee Brands Are Adapting as Consumers Opt to Brew at Home”, Adweek, 7/27/20
[3] “Global Drinks Trends After Coronavirus”, Euromonitor, 7/20
[4] “Starbucks launches premium instant coffee with Nestle”, Food Navigator, 2/25/20
[5] “Craft Coffee: The Next Boom Industry?”, The Hartman Group, 1/20
[6] “New Wave Coffee”, JWT, 1/24/19
[7] “Bored of chocolate? Eat coffee instead, says The Whole Coffee Co: We’re creating a completely new food category”, Food Navigator, 1/06/20
[8] “Coffee evolution driving beverage category growth”, Food Business News, 12/26/19
[9] “Pepsi Café, a cola-coffee blend, comes to stores next year”, FoodDive, 12/13/19
[10] “Coca-Cola to debut coffee-flavored cola in the U.S.”, FoodDive, 7/31/20
[11] “Hard coffee, hard kombucha – experts say no beverage is safe from alcohol”, The Washington Post, 2/03/20
[12] “No more OJ on the side: Coffee and fruit juice share the cup in a refreshing twist”, Restaurant Hospitality, 8/21/20
[13] “NPD Spotlight: New product launches in RTD tea and coffee”, 7/17/20
[14] “Wellness in a bottle: Delivering consumer-preferred beverages”, Givaudan, 2020
[15] “How coffee can fuel your workout”, NutraIngredients, 7/27/20
[16] “Atomo Coffee gets $9M for a molecular morning jolt”, FoodDive, 8/11/20
[17] “Miss your fancy coffee shop habit? Silicon Valley has the answer – in one tablespoon”, Fast Company, 4/23/20

Alive With Expression

The basic human desire to connect and share is a long-running macro trend and one that has only been magnified by our current isolation and deprivation. As a creative agency, we are inspired by the many artistic, creative outlets consumers have found to express themselves in these times and relieved to be able to offer you proof that society hasn’t died of boredom. Yet.

Let’s start with the most blatantly obvious. The masks. Or better yet, the irony of the masks – the piece of cloth that inadvertently masks our actual, physical expressions and yet allows us a facial canvas with which to express ourselves to others. The mask that has both “changed the face of the country, literally,”[1] effectively “excising half of the face…removing crucial visual cues people have used for millennia to communicate” AND simultaneously become a statement, whether one of politics or fashion. Some claim “faces have now become billboards…where the mask dominates and everything else becomes an accessory”.[2] The fashion statement is the one that fascinates us. There are now monthly mask subscriptions “so customers can match their moods with masks”[3], celebrity mask-watch conversations, homemade versions bedazzled with Chanel logos[4], masks integrated into work uniforms[5], professional-artist designed options, and beauty influencers providing makeup tutorials that play up the only remaining visible feature – the eyes.[6]

Next up, the body. It turns out there are numerous options for tattoos to commemorate this special, hopefully once in a lifetime occasion: “coronavirus molecules, bottles of hand sanitizer, rolls of toilet paper and even exploding Corona beer bottles”.[7]

Moving on to the digital front, there are pandemic-inspired memes and newly created emojis or emoji combinations that help express what we’ve all run out of words for. And then there is official art.  Submissions such as “daily quarantine art”, opportunities like Isolation Art School on Instagram[8] and The Washington Post’s solicitation of reader art featuring depictions of social distancing, health care heroes, sanitization, stimulus checks, anxiety, quiet and togetherness.[9]

Last but not least, there is the pouring of the heart out through food. While ingredients, preparation, improvisation, presentation and consumption (what, where, when, how, why and with whom?) are classic forms of expression at any time – during the pandemic we see numerous examples of people expressing themselves through food via two key themes:


Mad skills or humble lack thereof. Chefs taking to Instagram, Saveur summoning home cooks to attempt “the 18 hardest foods to make”,[10] amateur bakers, omelet and ‘pancake cereal’ makers and mixologists proudly posting their creations, the inevitable epic fails and Mindy Kaling’s hilarious riff on charcuterie.

Trendy food - pancake cereal


Hard-won consumption or ownership of hard-to-find or LTO items, like scoring a “trophy bottle” of rare wine or whiskey from a restaurant selling off their prized collections, participating in a virtual cooking class or supper club, or indulging in an $8 Supreme-branded Oreo Cookie.

So what can we learn from all of these disparate forms of expression in troubled times? That even when living in the upside-down, some things never change. Modern storytelling – the ways in which we share our journeys – is still concise and highly visual. A picture is worth 1,000 words. A few words can speak volumes. And everyone longs to be seen, heard and connected. Simplify your stories, let your imagery do most of the talking, and create opportunities for your customers to show you who they are.

[1] “Masks are changing the way we look at each other, and ourselves”, The Washington Post, 5/19/20
[2] “Losing face: The rise of the mask, and what’s lost behind it”, AP, 4/20/20
[3] “In 2020, masks aren’t just for protection – they’re being used to make a statement”, CNN, 5/10/20
[4] “The hot fashion accessory of 2020? Masks, masks, and more masks”, Fast Company, 4/23/20
[5] “Burger King parent Restaurant Brands International considers designing face masks as part of uniform”, Informa, 5/12/20
[6] “Face Masks Fuel Post-Covid-19 Beauty Opportunities”, Mintel, 4/15/20
[7] “Coronavirus Tattoos Are Here – Including Toilet Paper Ones”, WSJ, 5/20/20
[8] “Coronavirus: How artists are depicting the lockdown”, BBC News, 4/29/20
[9] “The best art created by Washington Post readers during the pandemic”, The Washington Post, 7/06/20
[10] “The Hardest Food to Make”, Saveur, 6/11/20

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