Retail Reboot: Away-from-Home Coffee’s Post-Pandemic Future

By William “Bill” Murray, NCA President & CEO


What does the post-pandemic future hold for the hundreds of thousands of retail outlets that provide coffee to Americans away-from-home?

The Spring ’21 NCDT showed a pandemic-induced dip in away-from-home coffee preparation, but there is reason to be optimistic.

The most recent study we conducted, the National Coffee Association’s National Coffee Data Trends report, offers many reasons for optimism for all segments of the coffee sector – including away-from-home.

Unlike some industries – travel, tourism, live entertainment – the coffee industry, as a whole, has fared reasonably well.  Coffee drinking is not only safe, no matter where you enjoy it, but is connected to numerous health benefits.  In fact, a large group of independent studies associates coffee drinking with lower levels of depression – important to know during a horrific pandemic.

All of which supports America’s continuing love affair with coffee, right through the pandemic.  In January of this year, 58% of Americans reported drinking coffee “yesterday,” down from 62% a year ago, a modest change – especially when considering the study’s 2.5% margin of error.

But while coffee continues to be America’s favorite beverage, it is true that the away-from-home segment has been impacted by the pandemic.  This impact, though, is temporary – a direct result of the pandemic – and is already reversing.

We know this because of what the data tells us about the recent past – and consumer attitudes – towards coffee.

First, one reason the away-from-home coffee segment has suffered is because of the rolling, random lockdowns the country has experienced.  These are coming to an end.

Second, the slight decrease in overall coffee consumption is linked to the economic impact of the pandemic.  24% of Americans told us in January of 2021 that their financial situation was “much or somewhat worse” than a year ago, up from 13% who told us the same thing in January 2020.  Stimulus checks are in the mail, and shortages of workers are growing.  Recent reports confirmed a surge in retail sales in March and dropping unemployment.  The economy is poised for a comeback – the worry now is actually over an “overheated” economy, and the inflation that could ensue.

Third, coffee drinking during the pandemic has been up marginally in the morning and at breakfast – but down marginally in the afternoon.  24% of Americans reported having an afternoon coffee in January ’20, down to 20% this past January.  That afternoon coffee is closely associated with socializing, work, or being out and about, and will reverse as America reopens.

Fourth, contrary to the headlines, away-from-home coffee never disappeared.  In fact, over two-thirds of respondents told us in January ’21 that they were already back in their coffee shops, or anticipating a return in the near future.  First responders, truckers, delivery service workers, skilled tradespeople, grocery store employees, public sector employees – those in the “Essential” parts of the economy (including many coffee suppliers, by the way) have been there all along.  About 11% of coffee drinkers drank their coffee during their commute – right through the pandemic.

Fifth, away-from-home coffee has pivoted quickly to adapt to the new reality, and coffee drinkers have responded.  By September of last year, 39% of away-from-home coffee drinkers had ordered through an app, up from 24% in January ’20.

But there’s more.  Turning from what has been happening to what coffee drinkers want to happen, the optimism grows even stronger.

The sixth reason for optimism is that coffee drinkers miss their away-from-home coffee.  In January, 2021, 35% of respondents either agreed strongly or somewhat agreed that they “miss the social aspect” of going out to coffee shops, cafes, and restaurants, 34% said that they miss their “regular” away-from-home venues, and 33% said that they miss treating themselves by going out. 

Some social psychologists have speculated that the post-lockdown period could be like the Roaring 20’s – a country ready to let loose.  Indulging in a favorite coffee beverage prepared by a favorite barista would be one way to do that!

Seventh, the steps that away-from-home venues can take to encourage customers’ return – while requiring some investment – are straightforward.  43% of respondents told us that having workers wear masks and gloves – and having other customers wear masks – were steps that venues can take to “encourage (me) to visit them more often.”  Practicing visible sanitation protocols, and limiting capacity/crowd control also scored highly.  (See our free NCA guide to safely reopening your coffee business for more on this topic.)

Bottom line?  Vaccines are rolling out, even with hiccups.  The economy is improving.  America has not lost its love for, its need for, and its relationship with coffee. America misses its favorite coffee shop, restaurant, and café – and for the one-third of Americans who are cautious about resuming their old routines, there are more reasons every day to feel reassured.

We’ve been through the worst we ever could have imagined – but today, and tomorrow, are better for all of us in coffee – especially the men and women around the world who grow the coffee we love.

Consumer Insights: Coffee Claims [Video]

From sourcing to roasting, coffee companies can have a lot to say about their product. These messages can majorly influence consumer perception and behavior – but not necessarily in the ways you’d expect.

A new NCA Consumer Insights report (based on NCDT data) takes a closer look at coffee claims – which include general statements, perceptions, or things that people find motivating about coffee.

For example, said Cheryl Hung, VP of Research at Dig Insights, during a recent webinar: “What kind of equity does coffee have with consumers? Are there positive and negative associations with coffee among different demographics? Who perceives coffee in a negative light? And what can we say to persuade them from a marketing perspective, or via point of sale?”

Get more highlights in the video below – and to learn more, check out the webinar (on-demand playback free for members) or NCA market research:

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Science Says That Coffee Is A Good Idea

Just the thought of coffee can help perk up your brain, science suggests

Just looking at something that reminds us of coffee may cause our minds to become more alert and attentive, according to a new study.

According to the NCA 2019 National Coffee Drinking Trends report, 57% of consumers say that they drink coffee because it helps them focus.

It seems that they’re on to something – and you may not even need to take a sip to get a similar psychological effect, according to new research from the University of Toronto.

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NCA National Coffee Data Trends 2019

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The Behaviors & Perceptions of U.S. Coffee Drinkers

63% of American adults drink coffee daily, according to new market research announced at the 2019 NCA Annual Convention in Atlanta.


The National Coffee Association USA (NCA) offered a first look at the redesigned and rebranded 2019 National Coffee Data Trends (NCDT) today at the 2019 NCA Annual Convention in the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel in Atlanta, GA. The NCDT report has tracked consumer behaviors and perceptions shaping coffee trends in the US for almost 70 years.

63% of American adults drink coffee daily, according to the NCDT, steady with 2018 consumption.

“Coffee is America’s most beloved beverage – and for good reason,” said William (Bill) Murray, NCA President & CEO. “New consumer values have changed the game for coffee. But the industry is adapting – and thriving – by embracing innovation and transparency.”

From sustainability to wellness, these realigned priorities mean that consumers are paying more attention to what’s in their cup than ever before.

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Coffee Clickbait Goes Bananas

Banana and coffee for breakfast

New research on coffee and climate change indicates an urgent situation for crops at origin

Behind the headlines on the future of coffee, according to science – and how you can get involved.

By William (Bill) Murray, NCA CEO & President
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Complete with the typical clickbait-style headline, a recent article intoned that the global population is imminently doomed to a world without coffee – and “not much” can be done about this “on a personal level.”

Sounds grim.

But it could be easy to miss the glimmer of hope buried in the last line:

This future could look bleak for morning coffee drinkers, but with the help of farmers and scientists, our cup of joe can be protected.”

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Two Compounds in Coffee May Work Together to Fight Parkinson’s and Protect Brain Health

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New research suggests that coffee’s potential health benefits are about more than caffeine.

via ScienceDaily


Rutgers scientists have found a compound in coffee that may team up with caffeine to fight Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia — two progressive and currently incurable diseases associated with brain degeneration.

The discovery, recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests these two compounds combined may become a therapeutic option to slow brain degeneration.

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New Report: Coffee Linked To Lower Diabetes Risk

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Research suggests coffee associated with approximately 25% lower risk of type 2 diabetes

via the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee (ISIC) 


A report titled “Coffee and type 2 diabetes: A review of the latest research” highlights the potential role of coffee consumption on the reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and the potential mechanisms involved.

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New Research on the Chemical Composition of Cold Brew

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From antioxidants to acidity, how is cold brew different from hot coffee?


Cold brew is the hottest trend in coffee: The domestic cold brew coffee market grew 580% from 2011 to 2016, according to research from Mintel.

Now, new research from Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University found chemical differences between hot and cold brew coffee, which may have potential health impacts.

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Infographic: 2018 Specialty Coffee Consumption Stats

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Learn more about US coffee consumption trends:  For a limited time only,  we’re taking 25% off all of the NCA 2018 Coffee Snapshot Reports


via Square

The data geeks over at Square and the SCA recently released some interesting statistics about how and when Americans are getting their caffeine fix.

From the iced coffee vs. cold-brew debate to the new alt milk, here’s a breakdown of what Americans are ordering at their local coffee shops each day:

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