Cold brew leads the next wave of coffee culture

Cold brew coffee’s rapid popularity ascent continues because it is meeting consumer demands for convenience, health and premium flavour. By Siân Edwards

Having experienced explosive popularity over recent years, cold brew coffee is now leading the next wave of coffee culture. In the United States, the cold brew market is now valued at $2.3 billion, growing by 213 percent since 2016 (GlobalData Plc, 2020). Meanwhile in Europe, cold brew is the fastest growing segment in RTD/Iced Coffee, with the United Kingdom becoming the fastest growing cold brew market, forecast volume growth of 10.5 percent between 2021-2025 (GlobalData Plc, 2021; Total RTD/Iced Coffee Market, Global Beverages Databook 2022).

Cold brew’s rapid ascent may in large part be down to its distinctive ability to meet consumer demands for convenience, health and premium flavour. With 83 percent of consumers expecting innovative flavours and new experiences in convenient grab-and-go formats to fit in with their busy lifestyles, cold brew can help beverage brand owners meet these key consumer trends (swnsdigital.com).

Demand for Premium Flavour

Unlike other coffee extracts, cold brew is made by slowly steeping coffee in ambient or cold water for extended periods of time. This gentle process extracts the superior flavours from the grounds, without using heat or pressure. The final product has a smooth, barista quality, rich flavour with a naturally sweet taste profile, similar to genuine roast and ground coffee. Cold brew is also perceived to be up to 67 percent less acidic than traditional hot brew and iced coffee, thus meeting consumers’ growing thirst for a more unique sensory experience (Mintel 2020).

The genuine roast and ground flavour has won favour with even the most discerning of coffee drinkers, being most commonly described as “smooth” and “indulgent” (Kerry 2018/foodnavigator-usa.com). This rich flavour profile has resulted in cold brew becoming a regular purchase for many consumers, overtaking iced coffee consumption (Datessential, SNAP Food Profile: Cold Brew, March 2018/GlobalData Plc 2021).

Due to its naturally sweet and rich flavour profile, one of cold brew’s unique appeals is that it can be drunk black without the associated bitterness of hot brewed coffee. This is particularly the case in Europe, where black is the most popular variety of cold brew, accounting for 69 percent of new product launches, highlighting the importance of coffee quality (Mintel GNPD, 2021).

Additionally, nitro cold brew offers a completely unique coffee experience. Infusing cold brew with nitrogen creates a silky smooth, velvety texture with enhanced sweet chocolatey notes, and a foamy head that resembles a Guinness. With its beer-like appearance, nitro taps into craft brewing trends and appeals to coffee lovers seeking a premium, unique beverage experience.

Image: H Webster

Convenience and Affordability

While consumers are seeking more premium beverage experiences, they still want their drinks to be affordable and fit in with their busy lifestyles.

Propelled by the pandemic, multi-serve formats have been gathering favour among consumers. Designed for at home consumption, bigger pack sizes and multipacks drive better value perception and also offer convenience and flexibility.

Multi-serve formats make it easy for consumers to enjoy cold brew at home, without the challenges of trying to brew it from scratch. Concentrate formats in particular can be diluted and paired with anything from oat milk to ice cream, offering consumers a completely customisable caffeine fix.

Healthier Beverages Without Sacrificing Taste

Research shows that 62 percent of consumers gravitate towards healthier beverage alternatives, seeking out caffeinated drinks with clean labels, free-from claims, and perceived health benefits such as improved mood, heightened concentration, and increased energy (Global Consumer Survey, 2020).

Cold brew is natural sugar and calorie free. Because of its naturally sweet taste profile and low acidity, it does not need heavy amounts of sugar or flavours; a little goes a long way, enabling beverage brand owners to tap into the demand for clean-labels, free-from and low-sugar claims.

Millennial and Gen Z consumers in particular are adopting a more holistic approach to health and are reaching for beverages that combine elevated health credentials, flavour and indulgence.

The versatility of cold brew allows beverage brand owners to diversify their product ranges and appeal to these younger health-conscious consumers, of which 40 percent of Gen Z consumers prefer their coffee in chilled, ready-to-drink formats like cold brew (Technomic Generation Report, 2018). The flexibility of ready-to-drink offerings and multi-serve formats, means that brand owners can cater to consumers’ varied preferences and, ultimately, tap into the next wave of coffee culture.

  • Siân Edwards, group insights manager at Finlays, a leading B2B supplier of tea, coffee and botanicals, headquartered in London, UK. She is responsible for understanding the trends and dynamics that drive the global market for tea, coffee and botanical ingredients.

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