Single-serve coffee is surging in popularity. What was once a niche in the coffee business has become an important segment not only in retail, but in foodservice. Some restaurants are finding new ways to present single serve coffee to satisfy a growing audience of coffee-loving consumers.
According to the Chicago-based research firm Mintel, the single-cup coffee market has expanded from $103 million in 2007 to an estimated nearly $1.8 billion in 2012. “In a way, single-cup coffee’s growth shows that Americans are dedicated to the coffee category, especially to fueling their personal preferences for brands, roasts, flavors, and serving types,” Mintel’s Coffee U.S. 2012 report noted.
Not only are Americans dedicated to the coffee category in general, but they are enjoying single-serve coffee. According to Mintel, 17 percent of coffee drinkers prefer their coffee one cup at a time. Mintel measured only retail coffee, or coffee purchased in stores and prepared at home, but the growth of single serve coffee could mean opportunities for restaurants.
Consumers like the single-serve machines because they are easy to use and convenient. The user does not have to measure or grind coffee, they don’t have to figure out how much water to pour into the machine to make exactly one cup, and there is little waste.
These features are attractive to restaurant operators too, and some are using single-serve systems to replace or to supplement their existing coffee systems. A few years ago large coffee chains as well as independents began offering single-serve, slow-brewed coffee, to appeal to people who want a fresh cup of coffee and who don’t mind waiting a few extra minutes. These preparations involved new machinery and elaborate processes.
Another method, pour-over coffee, is also gaining popularity in coffee bars and in restaurants. Pour-over, or hand-pour coffee, involves pouring boiling water from a kettle over ground coffee into a drip cone with a filter, and the coffee drips slowly into a cup. The technique takes a few minutes, so it is more popular among coffee enthusiasts than among harried commuters.
For restaurant operators who want something less precious and more practical, the pod-based machines offer a fast, efficient way to prepare single-serve coffee. They also are neater than traditional brewed coffee or espresso, and no one has to clean up a messy pile of grounds or worry about breaking a glass carafe. Also, pod machines do not demand the expertise and labor that the espresso machines need. Some machines can be connected to the restaurant’s plumbing so that workers do not have to pour water.
Some restaurant concepts find the single-serve machines to be valuable even if coffee is not the eatery’s main focus. Certain fast casual restaurants use the machines for the occasional off peak coffee order. If a person wants a cup of coffee to go with their burger or chicken, the customer will not be satisfied with a beverage from a coffee pot that has been sitting over a hot plate for hours. They want fresh coffee, but the kitchen or counter staff will not want to waste an entire carafe for a single customer. Also, in the case of drive-thru, customers would most likely not want to wait for a full pot of coffee to brew.
Single-serve coffee can attract customers not only during between-daypart hours but also during the off season. Chains that specialize in smoothies or frozen desserts are finding that offering single-serve coffee can bring in customers when the weather turns cold.
Some breakfast chains also have begun to use the pod systems so that they can offer more variety in their coffee selection. Customization is an important trend and diners expect more than a choice of regular or decaf. Some concepts are offering coffee from pod systems so that during the morning rush they can offer regular, decaf, coffee from various countries, espresso, vanilla, hazelnut, very dark, and other variations, without having to buy several machines that take up valuable space.
Another plus for restaurants is that consumers are familiar with the pod systems. The New York-based National Coffee Association, in its 2013 National Coffee Drinking Trends market research report, reported that awareness of single-cup brewing systems increased to 73 percent of consumers in 2011, from 55 percent in 2007. Coffee drinkers also look favorably at the single-cup method, with 45 percent of consumers rating the systems as excellent or very good, compared to 26 percent in 2007.