Cold coffee is now the go-to choice for many US consumers, with under-35s driving booming sales and the category fast becoming a year-round coffee shop staple
Nearly a quarter of consumers surveyed consume iced coffee on a daily basis – up 7% on 2022 | Photo credit: Demi Deherrera
Cold coffee sales are booming in the US, with rising demand among younger consumers making the category ripe for sustained long-term growth. Boosted by large areas of the US experiencing prolonged warm weather, year-round consumption in colder winter months is on the rise, making this once relatively specialised category a key sales channel for operators.
“In the US at least, there has been a strong tendency towards cold beverages over time. Tea is a great example – a century ago hot tea was much more popular than cold tea. Now iced tea is much more popular than hot tea,” said Peter Giuliano, Executive Director at The Coffee Science Foundation and Chief Research Officer at the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA).
US iced coffee sales are certainly following this trajectory. Nearly a quarter (24%) of consumers surveyed consume iced coffee on a daily basis – up 7% on 2022 – with 30% having purchased an iced coffee in-store within the last 12 months. Moreover, half of industry leaders surveyed by World Coffee Portal highlighted iced coffee’s popularity as the most important consumer trends affecting the US branded coffee shop market, ahead of the growth of specialty coffee (32%) and drive-thrus (29%).
Having been involved in the cold coffee industry for over 15 years Giuliano believes his previous estimate that 50% of all coffee sold in the US will be cold by 2030 is now ‘conservative’.
With market leader Starbucks reporting 75% of beverage sales across 15,800-plus US stores were cold in the third quarter of 2023, it is easy to see why. The Seattle-based coffee chain saw cold espresso sales grow 13% year-on-year during the quarter, with cold foam now the fastest-growing customisation preference.
“Certain factors are coming together to create a strong shift towards cold coffee consumption. For one, younger consumers seem more friendly towards cold coffee generally. This may be tied to drinking coffee beverages later in the day as a treat rather than in the morning as a breakfast drink. Secondly, the rise of ready-to-drink (RTD) coffee leans towards cold beverages. As this segment continues to develop, people become more and more familiar with cold coffee,” says Giuliano.
Starbucks reported 75% of beverage sales across its US stores were cold in the third quarter of 2023 | Photo credit: Angelica Reyes
Demand for cold coffee is being driven by younger consumers, with 37% surveyed under the age of 35 consuming iced coffee daily.
Popularised by slickly branded iced products such as Nguyen Coffee Supply, BLK & Bold and Chamberlain Coffee, the iced RTD segment has generated significant cultural capital, not least demonstrated by celebrity endorsements from Jennier Lopez to Snoop Dogg.
Having successfully cultivated its ‘cool brand’ status RTD coffee is now attracting significant investment from some of the biggest players in the US coffee industry, signalling a further shift to the mainstream.
For the year to 15 May 2023, data from Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI) shows US RTD coffee sales rose 31.5% to reach $925.4m.
July 2023 saw JAB Holding backed Keurig Dr Pepper (KDP) take a 33% stake in US specialty coffee roaster La Colombe, with rights to sell and distribute RTD coffee products from late 2023, while beverage specialist Beliv took a controlling 78% stake in Texas-based RTD coffee brand High Brew.
Additionally, US coffee roaster Westrock Coffee is nearing completion of a 524,000sq ft roasting to RTD facility in Conway, Arkansas to cater to significant demand for the category. Once fully operational, the facility will be the largest roasting to RTD operation of its kind in the US.
Following in the footsteps of premium and specialty coffee, cold coffee is also becoming more available at-home. Leading coffee pod brands Nespresso and Keurig Dr Pepper have launched new iced single-serve products this year, with the latter business also unveiling a new line of machines specifically for iced brewing.
Meanwhile, ‘flash-frozen’ coffee puck concept Cometeer partners with prominent US specialty coffee roasters, including George Howell, Equator Coffees, Bird Rock, Birch, Joe, Counter Culture, Red Bay, and Go Get Em Tiger.
Further highlighting cold brew’s at-home ascendence, New York-based The Cumulus Coffee Company raised $20.3m in November 2023 to bring its at-home cold brew coffee pod machine to market, with former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz among investors.
“As specialty coffee continues to innovate better tasting cold drinks, I believe this trend will pick up steam,” Guiliano says.
Iced and RTD categories are without doubt two of the hottest categories in the US coffee market currently. As Bluestone Lane founder Nick Stone recently noted during an appearance on Gordon Ramsay’s Food Stars – “If you don’t have cold beverages, it’s a big missed opportunity.”
As cold coffee continues to crack the US mainstream, operators may increasingly choose to put hot beverages on the back burner.
Project Café USA 2024 is World Coffee Portal’s definitive annual study of the US branded coffee shop market across all 50 states. Our research includes market sizing, sector-by-sector insight, beverage pricing, brand profiles and an in-depth survey of more than 5,000 US coffee consumers.
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