| UK

Opinion – Why specialty coffee shops can’t afford to trade on prestige alone

With beverage quality steadily rising in an increasingly competitive coffee shop market, specialty operators must move with the times to meet consumer expectations on service and choice, says Camilla Morgan

Camilla Morgan, Head of Business Development & Customer Relationships at Eversys | Graphic by Sticker Mule


The sustained appeal and growth of coffee shops around the world serve as compelling proof of the industry’s adaptability, innovation, and consistent ability to deliver on ever-changing consumer preferences.

Having attended every edition of The London Coffee Festival to date, I’ve witnessed first-hand how coffee businesses have evolved their approach to customer engagement while anticipating and shaping future preferences.

Gone are the days when the allure of exclusivity and pretty latte art can sustain a specialty coffee shop alone. In today’s market, the mass availability of high-quality coffee has levelled the playing field, compelling businesses to engage with customers through innovative technology and creative engagement strategies. In this complex and challenging climate, delivering exceptional hospitality experiences is now the key to success.

Consumers expect more from their daily coffee

Coffee industry innovation is about much more than simply staying relevant. It involves spearheading new benchmarks for future coffee enthusiasts. Flavoured coffee menus, once a novelty, have now become a mainstay, illustrating the industry’s wider move towards personalised experiences. Expectations have shifted from quality as a luxury to quality as a baseline standard, with consumers now widely recognising the expertise required to create perfectly frothed milk.

Current beverage trends extend further into sustainability and traceability, highlighting a marked increase in consumer interest in the provenance and story of their coffee. This shift not only highlights the sector’s innovation in beverage creation but also highlights the growing consumer desire to connect more deeply with their daily coffee, its origin and how it has been prepared.

The rise of non-coffee beverages

Growing health consciousness, particularly among younger consumers, has prompted coffee shops to broaden beverage menus beyond traditional caffeinated offerings. This trend towards diversification is about more than just providing alternatives – operators must also demonstrate a deeper understanding of modern consumers’ quest for balance and wellness in their food and beverage choices.

“Expectations have shifted from quality as a luxury to quality as baseline standard”

The popularity of bubble tea, matcha lattes, and lower-caffeine options is a testament to this change, with these ranges offering a balance between indulgence and health-conscious consumption. This evolution is critical, aligns with rising health trends and changing consumer expectations and further highlights the industry’s commitment to menu innovation.

Coffee shops continue to adapt to new market realities

Coffee shops have introduced new formats and business models as a direct response to current industry challenges, including the hospitality skills crisis, surging operational costs and the imperative to enhance customer engagement. In this evolution, a notable trend is the rise of super-traditional espresso machines which, alongside traditional espresso machines, are increasingly being embraced on the high street. The shift towards automation in coffee preparation addresses the issue of staff shortages by reducing the need for highly trained baristas. It also consistently delivers the high quality that today’s consumers expect.

Moreover, the adoption of automation and digital engagement strategies boosts operational efficiency and now serves as a cornerstone of the modern coffee experience. The shift towards digitalisation, including mobile ordering and even AI-driven personalisation, seeks to tailor and enrich the customer experience, transforming the ambience of coffee shops to blend technological advancement with the importance of human connection. Super-traditional espresso machines complement this by ensuring un-compromised coffee quality in fast paced and high-volume venues.

The adoption of advanced coffee machines by high street coffee operators is indicative of the sector’s broader embrace of technology. It reflects a pragmatic approach to solving operational challenges while catering to increasing consumer demand for quality and speed. As the coffee industry continues to navigate current challenges, the strategic use of technology, including the adoption of super-traditional espresso machines, will play a pivotal role in defining the future of coffee shop formats.

Embracing change positively is the road to success

Demand for coffee may be robust, but the road ahead for operators is fraught with challenges, such as escalating input costs, staff shortages and fragile consumer confidence. Yet, this era of adversity has given rise to innovative business models that show the coffee industry’s adaptability and resilience. Digital subscriptions for specialty coffee and the strategic integration of coffee shops within multi-purpose spaces highlight a strategic shift towards more sustainable and integrated operational models.

These forward-thinking strategies address current challenges and are proactive in anticipating future consumer trends, laying the groundwork for long-term success.

The coffee industry is characterised by a relentless pace of change, primarily driven by consumer demand and technological advancement. Insights gained from annual events like The London Coffee Festival reveal success in this vibrant sector relies on embracing change as the road to growth and innovation rather than just adapting to it.

By prioritising quality, leveraging technology, and deeply understanding shifts in consumer preferences, these best-in-class coffee operators are well-placed to navigate market complexities. With a focus on creating memorable and enjoyable experiences for their customers, the future of our sector looks bright – and full of opportunities for those ready to innovate, adapt, and engage with their community. 


Camilla Morgan is passionate about delivering exceptional coffee solutions and has more than 14 years experience in the coffee industry. Having held senior roles at Union Hand Roasted Coffee, Melitta Professional and Victoria Arduino, Morgan is currently Head of Business Development & Customer Relationships at Eversys.

This article was first published in Issue 19 of 5THWAVE magazine.

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