This month, I attended the most buzz-worthy conference of the year. No, it wasn’t SXSW (although the crowd in attendance was probably equally stimulated) – it was the National Coffee Association’s Annual Convention.
And, yes, it was just as delicious as it sounds.
Between sipping samples from vendors around the globe, I absorbed a lot about coffee’s past, present and future. My lessons began with the legend of Kaldi the goat herder, who first discovered Coffea Arabica when his flock became unusually frisky after ingesting some bright red berries while grazing in the Ethiopian hills, and progressed to philosophical discussions on the increasingly dynamic, venture capital-backed Third Wave movement.
While coffee’s trajectory thus far is a fascinating one, the key insight I left with is that the industry’s future is exceptionally bright.
1. Health Halo in the Making. Coffee has a myriad of health benefits that are backed by sound science, but are not yet widely acknowledged by consumers. Dr. Alan Leviton, of Harvard University Medical School, shared data showing that regular coffee consumption (3-5 cups/day) is associated with decreased risk of Type 2 Diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and cancer or malignancies. Basically, the more coffee people drink (within reason), the lower their mortality rate. And the best part? While adding cream and sugar to coffee may add calories, it doesn’t decrease coffee’s positive health effects.
2. Growing Role in a Healthy Lifestyle. Anyone who lives for that first cup of the day or Joneses for an afternoon espresso kick will tell you coffee is a staple of their lifestyle. But, as of yet, drinking coffee hasn’t become synonymous with the healthy lifestyle so many consumers today are chasing. As more coffee marketers realize the image-building potential they have in this realm, you can expect to see that change. Between 2004-07, the National Coffee Association increased daily consumption from 49% to 57% with a campaign showing consumers the role coffee can play in a healthy way of life – so, if the industry decides to re-invest in this strategy, consumer perceptions will inevitably change.
3. Taking Trends by Storm. Trends have a huge bearing on what we choose to consume, and coffee has a number of them working in its favor. With interest in artisanal coffee at an all-time high and deep-pocketed investors cheering on up-and-comers like Stumptown, Intelligentsia, Counter Culture and Blue Bottle, some believe coffee is on the verge of a market disruption similar to those recently experienced in yogurt, chocolate and juice. As coffee consumers skew younger, and infusions of capital drive production innovation (see Khristian Bombeck’s $16,000 machine version of a barista, the Steampunk), exciting behavioral shifts are sure to arise.
4. Bridging Global Gaps. As the world gets flatter and virtually all business goes global, it’s more important than ever for companies to act as members of the global community and demonstrate their ability to bridge cultural divides. Coffee is a beverage that is not just consumed, but beloved around the world – from the deserts of Saudi Arabia to the rainforests of Costa Rica, and everywhere in between. In most of those places, coffee acts as social lubricant that brings people together throughout the day. Ethiopia’s coffee ceremony, Italy’s café sopreso and Vienna’s kaffeehäuser culture are just a few examples of how this plays out. With a flavor and form for any occasion, coffee has tremendous potential to break down traditional social barriers and bring cultures closer.
5. Improving Lives. Around the world, women play a major role in getting coffee from farm to table. Women do most of the field and harvest work (70 percent says Huffington Post), and are more likely than their male counterparts to re-invest their earnings into their business. Yet, only 15 percent of these women hold leadership positions, and many of them face poverty and other obstacles in their daily lives. Thanks to organizations like the International Women’s Coffee Alliance, there is growing awareness of this disparity, and the coffee industry has wisely made it a focus of its sustainability platform. With continued support from coffee growers, marketers and distributors, the industry will make strides to improve education, access and opportunities for the farming community it employs. Expect to hear more on this following the IWCA International Convention in Bogota Oct. 15-18.
Coffee’s rich history and magnetic allure have already made it a subject of consumer fascination. With all the above ingredients working in its favor, there’s no limit to what it can achieve.
Where do you see business and marketing opportunities for the coffee industry? Share your thoughts in the comments below!