While many in the coffee industry prefer coffee black, it’s not as common with end users. According to research done by Datassential and presented at the 2018 Coffee, Tea & Water show, 64 percent of consumers add creamer to coffee and 34 percent add sweeteners. Away from home has the lowest percentage of black coffee drinkers, making this extremely relevant to office coffee service providers. Female and younger consumers are the most likely to use coffee additive, much more than other end users. 

Creamer preference is changing 

The research indicates that flavored and unflavored creamers are top preferences for coffee drinkers who use additives, used by 64 percent of consumers outside the home when combined. When taken individually, however, milk starts to suffer with a 22 percent decline from its use 5 years ago. Unflavored liquid creamer on the other hand, experienced 38 percent growth from 5 years ago.

Mark DiDomenico of Datassential said where the company sees the most growth is in plant-based creamers. This is a segment that includes soy milk, almond milk, and coconut milk. A majority of consumers, 83 percent, reported interest in the plant-based creamers. However, only 67 percent were currently using it.  

“The difference could be it [plant-based creamers] not being available away from home, so this could be a missed opportunity,” DiDomenico said. This is supported by other research that shows that of the consumers who use this type of creamer away from home, 56 percent us it at a coffeeshop, while at work/school that percentage drops to 11 percent. It just isn’t as widely available at OCS-type locations.   

The primary reason behind the surge in plant-based creamers is that consumers believe it’s a healthier alternative to dairy-based creamers. Almond milk tops the list with both consumers who have tried alternative creamers and to those whom alternative creamers appeal. People prefer almond milk to soy milk, according to the research, with 17 percent saying they love almond milk compared to 9 percent who say the same for soy milk. Coconut milk ranks higher than soy, but not almond milk among those who use plant-based creamers in their coffee.

Sugar ranks high 

Just over a third of consumers add some form of sweetener to their coffee, with sugar being the strong preference. Some interesting trends in the research point to raw sugar, flavored syrup and even honey as additional options consumers use to sweeten drinks. Flavored syrup has the advantage of also adding another flavor, which is something consumers want. They crave variety, and that includes flavors and the mouth feel of their coffee drinks, says DiDomenico.

Flavors stay flat 

Not much has changed in terms of flavored coffee, DiDomenico added. Less than a quarter like brewed flavored coffee, while the rest of consumers prefer to add the flavor in after the coffee has been brewed. The flavor preferences remain largely unchanged with vanilla the steadfast winner in popularity. However, for OCS providers looking to set themselves apart, this could present a vast opportunity. DiDomenico made the point that today’s consumer wants variety, wants personalization. By offering some unique options to the coffee drinker at work, the operator has a competitive advantage. Some flavor suggestions include dessert flavors, such as key lime, Nutella, and tiramisu. Flavors like peanut butter and Dulce de leche are logical pairings as well that provide some unique variety without stepping too far from flavors consumers would know and appreciate.   

More people drink coffee every year. With more than half of them also wanting to add a little something extra to the cup, it’s important to track trends and add proper offerings to product lines. Plant-based creamers and unique flavors are increasingly appealing to consumers, but not to the exclusion of best sellers such as vanilla flavored creamer, unflavored creamer and sugar. It’s all about having options.

About the Author

Emily Refermat | Editor

Emily has been living and breathing the vending industry since 2006 and became Editor in 2012. Usually Emily tries the new salted snack in the vending machine, unless she’s on deadline – then it’s a Snickers.

Feel free to reach Emily via email here or follow her on Twitter @VMW_Refermat.