Regular Coffee Still America’s Favorite Buzz

Despite the seeming popularity of Mocha Frappuccinos, McCafe Caramel Lattes and other specialty so-called coffee drinks, most of America still likes their coffee without all the frou-frou additions, suggests a study from Technomic, a marketing intelligence company. Technomic’s recently released report “Market Intelligence Report: Coffee & Tea” takes an in-depth look at America’s drive-by coffee habits and their coffee and tea choices at casual dining restaurants. The not-too-surprising conclusion: 60% of consumers surveyed said that they’d ordered regular hot coffee or tea in the past month, as opposed to 32% who’d ordered a “specialty coffee drink.”

The report is aimed at the quick-food market, which includes fast food restaurants and casual dining restaurants, but the findings are interesting for anyone who enjoys a good cup of coffee. Joe Pawlak, Technomic Vice President, points out that “Consumers who regularly purchase coffee on their way to work are motivated by the convenience of the location, but significantly, they are actually more motivated by the quality of the coffee.”

Fast food companies have increasingly taken that message to heart, with more and more of them upgrading the coffee offerings on their menus. The upgrades go beyond adding fluffy dessert-style coffee drinks. The top fast food chains have nearly all introduced better quality house blends in the past few years.

McDonalds’, for example, rolled out their Newman’s Own coffee offering two years ago in the New England area and now serves Newman’s Own coffee as their regular blend in all locations. Burger King tried flying its own BKJoe blend for five years before giving it up and turning to Seattle’s Best coffee and hyping their change by giving it away free on Fridays. When Subway decided to open for breakfast and add breakfast sandwiches to their menu, they too turned to Seattle’s Best to develop a special blend just for their restaurants. And Wendy’s, never one to stand on the sidelines, has been serving a gourmet blend at their restaurants since 2007.

The Technomics Coffee and Tea report also had a few other interesting tidbits for coffee and tea lovers. According to the report:

14% of consumers say that they’re buying more hot coffee than they did two years ago, despite the fact that the price of coffee on the go has gone up considerably in that two years. It’s a testament to the importance of small luxuries during difficult financial times.

Grocery stores, drug stores and department stores have seen an overall increase of 15.9% in coffee sales from 2007 to 2010, but the lion’s share of that increase went to department stores like Target and Walmart, which saw a 53.1% increase in coffee sales. A lot of that increase is due to those stores expanding their coffee offerings as they attempt to appeal to more customers. Target’s Archer Farms brand offers single origin coffees and gourmet blends, while Walmart’s “Great Value” brand coffee recently came in 4th out of 19 coffees tested by Consumer Reports for their September 2011 coffee issue.

The surprising biggest bargain in coffee to go is those iced/frozen coffee drinks, which are the only coffee specialty drink that haven’t increased in price since 2009. Of course, that might be because they barely contain any coffee, but if you like to indulge in those frothy, coffee-flavored confections, you can congratulate yourself on being thrifty — sort of, anyway.

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