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Instant coffee in modern times: comment on soluble coffee and coffee capsules

From the March 2014 issue.

Buencafé’s Carlos Osorio discusses how soluble coffee is shaping up against the rise of single serve.

Buencafe Carlos Osorio soluble coffee and single serveSome trends in the coffee market have been moving so fast that when thinking of how things were five years ago, and how they will be five years from now, it requires a great deal of extrapolation. The instant coffee market does not change as fast, but a few trends have become obvious in recent times.

There has been some movement lately in the very high quality range of instant coffees, particularly those with microground roasted coffee particles inside. I would suggest this has been a reaction to the fast growth of capsule-type single-serve roasted and ground coffee machines, which have partly redefined the concept of instant coffee.

Some years ago, you could count on a neat differentiation in taste, quality and convenience between a cup of coffee coming from roasted and ground beans and a cup coming from instant coffee. Many people could argue that a single-serve coffee machine delivers an instant cup and allows for the convenience of having different flavours and fresh profiles for each user without requiring a barista. Nowadays, the terms soluble and instant coffee are no longer synonymous due to the invasion of single-serve into the instant arena.

Soluble coffee products have reacted fast and strong by recruiting the best attributes of roasted and ground coffee lovers. Today’s instant coffee offers fresh enticing flavour through the incorporation of actual particles of very high quality roasted and ground beans into the soluble coffee crystals. In fact, we say that our Roasted Instant Coffee (freeze dried plus microground particles) has the best of both worlds: the flavour of fresh roasted and ground coffee and the convenience of soluble-instant coffee. Now that roasted and ground coffee has become more convenient, and soluble coffee has improved its quality, that difference is not as clear as it used to be.

There are, however, some related trends where we find a certain degree of contradiction. For example, in terms of sustainability, consumers often say they prefer products that are more socially and environmentally friendly. However, this claim is not coherent with the growth in the use of capsules, which have a very high energy and carbon footprint compared to soluble coffee.

Still, when we try to project to five or even 10 years from now, we see no clear winner in this contest, as both markets are healthy and growing (though not at the same rate). We think there will be enough coffee lovers for both instant ways of perking up your morning, with all of them evolving towards higher quality products.

The second trend we observe is towards healthier products. Every day, people are more conscious about the importance of eating healthy foods, and are taking the time to read the small text that informs about ingredients and nutrition facts. Coffee has been known for having thousands of components and being one of the most popular beverages around the world. Therefore studies about the effects of coffee on our health are being conducted almost constantly. Some advances in technology have allowed scientists to identify what components have which functional properties, and clinical trials run by recognised institutions have found evidence of several positive effects of these coffee components in our health.

However, in spite of being a well-defined global trend, there has been a lot of controversy about functional foods in recent years because of the lack of standardisation in the different countries’ regulations and definitions. Functional foods are lost somewhere between standard foods (with nutrition properties) and medicines (with defined properties for health conditions), and in recent years the Food and Agriculture Organization, together with the World Health Organization, have tried to define international standards regarding the substantiation of claims for functional foods.

In Eastern cultures, functional foods have been part of daily life for centuries, while in Western cultures they are more of a modern fashion. There are huge differences between the product labelling regulations of each country, and new coffee product developments is often meant for the world market, and not only for a particular country or region. Although consumers are willing to buy functional coffee products, and manufacturers are ready to undergo the complex process of development and clinical trials to substantiate claims, it is still not clear how this trend will evolve in the coming years. 

About Carlos Osorio

Carlos Osorio joined the Colombian Coffee Federation at Buencafé where he has worked for the past 27 years. After coordinating the team that made the automation of most of the production processes he joined the R&D department to lead the Process Optimization area and later as head of the department he has been responsible for the development of new products and the deployment of state of the art technologies, putting into practice some of the expertise he acquired studying Advanced Project Management at Stanford University.

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