Is specialty coffee growing faster than global coffee consumption?

Louise Matthews
Is specialty coffee growing faster than global coffee consumption?

According to the International Coffee Organisation, global coffee consumption is expected to amount to 170.3 million 60kg bags in 2021/22, with Europe and North America accounting for around half this volume.

This is clear evidence that the global coffee market is expanding. And as part of this, it’s also clear to see that specialty coffee is becoming increasingly popular.

In addition, in its recently published National Coffee Data Trends (NCDT) spring edition report, the National Coffee Association found that past-day consumption of specialty coffee in the US in 2022 was the highest on record.

But this raises an important question: is the specialty coffee market growing at a faster rate than the global coffee industry? Or is its growth to be expected given how wider consumption is increasing?

To learn more, I spoke with Daniel Velásquez Restrepo and Judith Ganes. Read on for their insight into the growth of the specialty coffee sector.

You may also like our article on whether specialty coffee brands are becoming more and more similar.

A roaster fills bags with roasted coffee.

The scope of the global specialty coffee sector

Before we discuss its value, we must first understand the size of the global specialty coffee market in proportion to the overall global coffee sector.

Daniel Velásquez Restrepo is the Director of Operations at Amativo Colombia, a green coffee trader in Colombia. He tells me that despite what might look like explosive growth in the last few years, the specialty coffee market is still comparatively small.

“[Because of its high-quality marketing], we can sometimes overestimate the size of the global specialty coffee market,” he says. “But that’s not to say that the market isn’t growing.”

Judith Ganes is the President of J. Ganes Consulting, a soft commodities expert analysis company.

She agrees, saying: “Rising global consumption of specialty coffee has helped the overall coffee market to grow, largely because of better marketing.

“However, specialty-grade coffee still only represents a small percentage of the total volume of coffee produced around the world, with some consumers unaware of what ‘specialty’ really means,” she adds.

In order for coffee to be classified as specialty grade, it must score higher than 80 points on the Specialty Coffee Association’s 100-point scale. 

However, alongside this, a number of other factors have come to be “associated” with specialty coffee and are becoming increasingly prominent. These include more of a focus on transparency and traceability in the supply chain.

Judith, however, explains that some consumers can use the terms “gourmet” and “specialty” interchangeably – creating confusion around more formal definitions.

“You can have a ‘gourmet’ coffee beverage, but it may not always contain specialty-grade coffee,” she tells me. “Furthermore, the consumer may also pay a premium price for the beverage.”

Jute bags of green coffee stored in a warehouse.

Measuring growth in majority consuming countries

Despite its smaller market share, it’s undeniable that the global specialty coffee sector is growing.

“In terms of numbers, the growth rate of the specialty coffee market is faster than the growth of commodity-grade coffee,” Daniel says. “However, in terms of market share, this faster level of growth isn’t comparable to the large volumes of commodity-grade coffee exports, which represent around 90{ead4cb8c77dfcbdb67aba0af1ff8dfae0017fcc07a16fe7b51058939ac12c72a} of Colombia’s exports, for instance.”

According to Euromonitor, the total value of global retail sales of coffee was US $180 billion in 2019, and sales are predicted to grow by another US $12.5 billion by 2023. 

As part of this, research from Euromonitor suggests that 52{ead4cb8c77dfcbdb67aba0af1ff8dfae0017fcc07a16fe7b51058939ac12c72a} of this growth is attributed to premiumisation.

This is the process by which roasters sell more exclusive, rare, and superior quality coffee to drive brand appeal and increase prices. Ultimately, this adds a greater sense of value for the buyer, and makes them more willing to pay higher prices. This type of growth typically occurs in more mature markets – such as Western Europe, the US, Australia, and East Asia.

Daniel believes that this has led more and more roasters in these markets to start sourcing specialty-grade coffee.

North America

In the NCA’s spring NCDT report, it was found that approximately 60{ead4cb8c77dfcbdb67aba0af1ff8dfae0017fcc07a16fe7b51058939ac12c72a} of the US population drinks coffee every day – the highest level in 20 years. 

The report also found that consumption of specialty coffee had reached a five-year high. Some 43{ead4cb8c77dfcbdb67aba0af1ff8dfae0017fcc07a16fe7b51058939ac12c72a} of respondents reported drinking a specialty coffee beverage in the previous day, which represents a 20{ead4cb8c77dfcbdb67aba0af1ff8dfae0017fcc07a16fe7b51058939ac12c72a} increase from January 2021.

Furthermore, according to The Brainy Insights, the North American specialty coffee market is predicted to grow by 20{ead4cb8c77dfcbdb67aba0af1ff8dfae0017fcc07a16fe7b51058939ac12c72a} year-on-year until 2030, which would make it the fastest-growing market in the world.

Europe

Europe currently has the largest share of the global specialty coffee market at around 46.2{ead4cb8c77dfcbdb67aba0af1ff8dfae0017fcc07a16fe7b51058939ac12c72a}, and its market growth is expected to increase by 9{ead4cb8c77dfcbdb67aba0af1ff8dfae0017fcc07a16fe7b51058939ac12c72a} by 2026

In particular, the Scandinavian coffee market is growing significantly, as consumers in countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway are willing to pay more for higher-quality coffee.

According to the CBI, along with North America, Europe is the largest and most important market for specialty coffee. This is because of the ever-growing number of specialty coffee roasters and coffee shops across the continent, which it says helps to improve consumer education and knowledge.

Asia-Pacific

The Asia-Pacific region is estimated to be the fastest-growing specialty coffee market in the world. According to Research and Markets, the region’s specialty coffee sector will experience a 15.3{ead4cb8c77dfcbdb67aba0af1ff8dfae0017fcc07a16fe7b51058939ac12c72a} annual growth rate from now until 2030.

Premiumisation is a significant driver of this growth, particularly in some East Asian countries like China, Japan, and Taiwan, based on research from the Specialty Coffee Association.

In China in particular, explosive rises in average income across the country’s larger cities means more people are drinking specialty coffee – especially younger generations.

Meanwhile, following the European Union and the US, Japan is the third-largest coffee import destination in the world, according to statistics from the ICO. Moreover, the country’s out-of-home coffee sector is booming, with a reported 86{ead4cb8c77dfcbdb67aba0af1ff8dfae0017fcc07a16fe7b51058939ac12c72a} of consumer spending attributable to coffee shops, restaurants, and other hospitality businesses.

Yellow cherries growing on a coffee plant.

What about growth in producing countries? 

For the most part, when compared to consuming countries, specialty coffee consumption is overall lower in producing countries. 

This is largely because of the historical structure of the global coffee trading system. Throughout the 1600s and 1700s, European colonial powers would export coffee to consuming countries. As coffee became more accessible over the years, the marketing in coffee (driven by majority consuming countries in the Global North) became much more consumer-focused. This drove a sharp rise in consumption through the 20th century.

However, in recent years, targeted, policy-driven initiatives and a growing middle class have driven domestic consumption in a number of key producing countries.

“In larger cities with stronger economies, the growth of the specialty coffee sector is similar to markets in consuming countries,” Judith tells me. “But in more rural areas, there is significantly less growth.”

Brazil

Brazil is the world’s largest producer and exporter of coffee. However, alongside this, domestic consumption is also increasing in the country. According to research from the SCA, around 98{ead4cb8c77dfcbdb67aba0af1ff8dfae0017fcc07a16fe7b51058939ac12c72a} of Brazilian households consume coffee, and growth has been steadily consistent since 2008.

This was largely the result of the Coffee Quality Programme, which was launched in 2004 by the Brazilian Coffee Industry Association (ABIC). The overall aim of the initiative was to improve consumers’ access to coffee quality verification systems. The programme included four quality classifications, including “Gourmet”, “Superior, “Traditional”, and “Extra Strong”.

As part of this, interest and consumption of specialty coffee has been growing. The SCA reports that Brazil’s specialty coffee market share doubled between 2016 and 2018 from 6{ead4cb8c77dfcbdb67aba0af1ff8dfae0017fcc07a16fe7b51058939ac12c72a} to 12{ead4cb8c77dfcbdb67aba0af1ff8dfae0017fcc07a16fe7b51058939ac12c72a}. 

Consumption of coffee also significantly rose from 2018 to 2019, as well as out-of-home consumption – largely driven by increasing disposable income.

Colombia

Another notable producing country where consumption is also growing is Colombia. Findings from the SCA indicate that domestic coffee consumption has increased by up to 3{ead4cb8c77dfcbdb67aba0af1ff8dfae0017fcc07a16fe7b51058939ac12c72a} in recent years. At the same time, iconic brands and labels such as Juan Valdez and 100{ead4cb8c77dfcbdb67aba0af1ff8dfae0017fcc07a16fe7b51058939ac12c72a} Colombian coffee have focused on the internal market in Colombia, too.

The SCA’s report also found that specialty coffee accounts for between 3{ead4cb8c77dfcbdb67aba0af1ff8dfae0017fcc07a16fe7b51058939ac12c72a} and 5{ead4cb8c77dfcbdb67aba0af1ff8dfae0017fcc07a16fe7b51058939ac12c72a} of the country’s total coffee consumption – indicating steady growth. Furthermore, in 2018, the estimated value of the Colombian specialty coffee market was around US $1.52 billion.

In addition to this, more specialty coffee brands and competition baristas have started to emerge across the country in recent years. For instance, at the 2021 World Barista Championship (WBC), Diego Campos became the first-ever Colombian to win the competition.

Central America

Compared to major coffee origins in Latin America, such as Colombia and Brazil, coffee consumption is largely growing at a slower rate in Central America.

In Mexico, for example, coffee consumption has been steadily increasing over the past few years. Research from Euromonitor and the Mexican National Association of the Coffee Industry (ANICAFE) estimates that between 2016 and 2019, annual consumption rose from 2.8 million 60kg bags to 3.2 million – with roast & ground coffee products becoming more popular.

Africa

Although traditional methods of coffee consumption are popular in a number of countries in Africa, domestic consumption remains comparatively low in African coffee-growing countries.

However, coffee consumption is increasing in some countries. In Uganda, for example, domestic consumption rose by 2.4{ead4cb8c77dfcbdb67aba0af1ff8dfae0017fcc07a16fe7b51058939ac12c72a} between 2018 and 2021, according to statistics from the ICO. 

Alongside this, younger generations are also showing increasing interest in coffee, and specialty coffee shops are starting to open in some larger cities.

Alongside this, more and more coffee competitions are starting to be held in Africa, and representation is starting to improve on the global stage. For instance, at the 2021 WBC, Kenyan barista Martin Shabaya became the first African participant to reach the finals in over 20 years.

A barista pours specialty filter coffee into a decanter.

Looking ahead

So, with specialty coffee consumption growing explosively and indications that wider consumption is increasing, we have an important question to ask: is specialty coffee growing faster than the wider coffee industry?

The ICO predicts that in 2021/22, global coffee consumption will increase by 3.3.{ead4cb8c77dfcbdb67aba0af1ff8dfae0017fcc07a16fe7b51058939ac12c72a} to 170.3 million 60kg bags – indicating that the global coffee market is certainly growing. Recently, the organisation lowered its consumption growth forecast to 1{ead4cb8c77dfcbdb67aba0af1ff8dfae0017fcc07a16fe7b51058939ac12c72a} to 2{ead4cb8c77dfcbdb67aba0af1ff8dfae0017fcc07a16fe7b51058939ac12c72a} by 2030 – which nonetheless still represents steady growth.

The Brainy Insights, meanwhile, estimates that the value of the global specialty coffee sector is expected to reach US $152.69 billion by 2030, which represents a growth rate of 12.32{ead4cb8c77dfcbdb67aba0af1ff8dfae0017fcc07a16fe7b51058939ac12c72a} during the forecast period. 

However, Daniel emphasises that we also need to remember in the comparative small scale of specialty coffee.

“The higher prices are reflective of the values of specialty coffee, [but may limit overall growth],” he says. 

Judith says that in order for growth of the global specialty coffee market to increase significantly, more farmers need to produce higher-quality coffee. 

“There needs to be a sufficient number of farmers who are able to grow specialty-grade coffee,” she explains. “Consumers also need to be willing to pay higher prices for this coffee.”

Daniel emphasises that growth of the specialty coffee sector needs to be sustainable, with more of a focus on accessibility – which could help to promote more significant levels of growth.

“There should be less focus on paying very high auction-like prices, producing exclusive micro lots, and promoting more established farms,” he says. “Instead, more effort should be made to support projects which empower coffee-growing communities, as well as growing coffee using more sustainable farming practices.

“In general, roasters and traders can create more positive impact by purchasing larger volumes of good-quality coffee at a reasonable price rather than buying smaller volumes such as micro-lots at very high prices from a single farm,” he adds.

However, Daniel explains that the growth of the specialty coffee industry certainly plays a role for the growth of the overall coffee market. And if the overall quality of coffee increases, we could see more and more consumers start to drink specialty coffee – potentially increasing the prices farmers receive.

A roaster break the crust during a coffee cupping.

It’s evident that in many countries around the world, consumption of specialty coffee is increasing – with significant growth in some regions.

However, it’s also important to acknowledge that the specialty coffee sector only accounts for a small percentage of overall market share, meaning it’s still a niche industry.

Ultimately, as long as consumers are willing to pay more premium prices for higher-quality coffee, demand for specialty coffee will continue to increase – but whether or not growth will outpace overall coffee consumption remains to be seen.

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on whether specialty coffee shops are becoming more common in airports.

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