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Millennials’ influence on US coffee culture

From the September 2016 issue.

With Millennials nearly outnumbering all other generations and drinking more specialty coffee at earlier ages, brewers have woken up to this influential group.

Barista latte art

Born in an era with a smartphone in every hand, a coffee shop on every corner, and organics lining pantries and closets, the steadily expanding Millennial demographic has set the bar high.

Comprising 75.4 million 18 to 34-year-olds in the United States – they surpassed the number of Baby Boomers in April – brands, retailers, restaurants, and service providers are all fighting for the US$200 billion in annual buying power this group controls.

Millennials have clear expectations, too: they seek out an experience, innovation, and authentic values in everything they buy.

Especially in the coffee industry, Millennials are helping drive change at every link of the supply and demand chains: sustainability and ethical farming, microroasting, innovative brewing, and photogenic pours.

“Through the rise of the Third Wave of coffee, which happened as Millennials were coming into their buying power, there has been a much bigger focus on trying to push the coffee industry,” says Groundwork Coffee Co. Partner Jeff Chean. “This means taking a look at every aspect along the supply chain to improve the quality of the beverage.”

Having been in the industry for 25 years, Groundwork and its leaders have been affected by the trends that characterise the Third Wave of coffee, which focused on specialty, artisanal coffee. But while Baby Boomers may not have had specialty coffee, or even an espresso beverage, until they were well into their adulthood, “Millennials were the first generation to grow up with specialty coffee as a given”, says

Patrick Main, senior beverage R&D Manager for Peet’s Coffee. “I think Millennials had a head start when it comes to appreciating specialty coffee.”

According to the National Coffee Association’s (NCA) latest “National Coffee Drinking Trends” report, Millennials drink more specialty coffee than any other generation and started doing so at the earliest age among generations (14 to 17 years old). From 2008 to 2016, daily consumption of gourmet coffee beverages soared from 13 per cent to 36 per cent among 18 to 24-year-olds and from 19 per cent to 41 per cent among 25 to 39-year-olds. The increase in consumption is largely driven by espresso-based beverages, the favourite among Millennials. Overall, daily consumption of espresso-based beverages has nearly tripled since 2008.

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