We worked with the Specialty Coffee Association to learn how independent coffee shops in the U.S. are pivoting amidst a global pandemic in 2020.
Specialty coffee businesses across the country are evolving in how they serve communities and generate revenue during this unprecedented time. Amazingly, 3 in 4 Square coffee sellers have continued operating during shelter-in-place orders, finding ways to adapt to new circumstances. This shows tremendous resilience and creativity, from curbside coffee pickup to grocery-style markets, home delivery to expanded eCommerce. These trends seem to represent more than a moment in time—they likely indicate a greater transformation of the specialty coffee industry, and a new way that coffee shops work within the communities they serve.
—Peter Giuliano, Chief Research Officer, Specialty Coffee Association
Adapting to a New Normal
Coffee shops are increasingly turning to delivery and pickup to keep customers caffeinated.
Curbside and/or pickup
combined sales increase in curbside and/or pickup orders.
increase in coffee sellers offering curbside and/or pickup since shelter in place.
increase in delivery sales among coffee sellers.
increase in coffee sellers offering delivery since shelter in place.
Erica Escalante decided the clunky, through-the-door pickup method wasn’t working for her shop. So she bought a “drive-through” speaker for customers to order from when they approach her storefront. That way, her baristas can bring to-go orders to the door in one trip, without running back and forth multiple times. Not only is this a huge time-saver for her staff, it also reduces wait time for customers and makes for an all-around safer pickup environment for everyone.
“This needs to be organized, this needs to be fast—we are losing a huge convenience factor right now. Yes, we are still a destination but a destination isn’t fun if it isn’t an experience. So, we are still creating that customer experience but in a different way.”
—Erica Escalante, owner of The Arrow in Portland, Oregon.
Cash Versus Card
While delivery, curbside, and to-go orders pick up steam, cash transactions have declined—both consumers and business owners seem less inclined to rely on paper currency as health and cleanliness take top priority. But average spend is still on the rise.
of coffee shops were cashless by late April, up from only 2% in early March.
6 percentage point decrease in the share of cash transactions at all coffee shops (from 34% in early March to 28% in late April 2020).
increase in average ticket size from March to April 2020, from $8.41 to $10.50.
This is partially due to a rise in the popularity of larger-ticket items, like coffee equipment or subscription bean services. Also raising the average total tab: one customer ordering coffee and pastries for an entire household.
“I really don’t see people going back to cash after this. I think this is going to be a major shift where we get in a habit of paying by phone or card and that won’t change in the future.”
—Eileen Rinaldi, owner of Ritual Coffee Roasters in the Bay Area, CA, on whether the recent decrease in cash usage is perhaps indicative of a larger shift in consumer payments.
At-Home Coffee Consumption
There’s no shortage of ways for consumers to recreate their favorite coffee at home, from batch cold brew to monthly coffee subscriptions.
increase in subscription coffee sales.
increase in the number of sellers offering subscription coffee services.
coffee subscription median price.
increase in growler sales.
increase in number of sellers offering growlers.
Top-selling cold brew growler median price.
increase in equipment sales (coffee makers, electric kettles, etc.).
median equipment sale price.
“Amazon isn’t prioritizing nonessential items right now, so if you try to order an AeroPress from them, you won’t get it for a month. But we can get it to your door in two days.”
—Lauren Crabbe, owner of Andytown Coffee Roasters, in San Francisco, CA, on why small businesses are better suited to serve customer needs during this time.
Paying It Forward
Business owners look for ways to give back to the healthcare community while generating revenue and keeping their employees on staff.
increase in healthcare donation sales (i.e., coffee for a healthcare worker) since shelter in place.
increase in the number of coffee shops offering healthcare donations.
$5.75 to $10
a nearly 2x increase in median price for healthcare donation sales.
Top three items donated to healthcare workers
Blended iced latte
Lauren Crabbe was looking for an accessible way for her customers to donate to Healthcare Heroes, on a scale that fit her business. So she started offering coffee and pastries on her website—for as little as $3, customers could send some well-deserved caffeine and sustenance to local healthcare workers in San Francisco. The model not only allows Andytown to maintain a revenue stream and stay in business but also gives back to the local community and keeps her staff employed.
“It completely took off to the point where I was able to rehire three people solely dedicated to this project.”
Growing Grocery Sales
Coffee retailers and roasters provide customer relief by offering hard-to-find staples.
Top-selling grocery-style items at coffee shops
percentages indicate the increase in number of merchants selling each item, followed by median price per item.
Eileen Rinaldi says that it took her one night to decide that she couldn’t afford to close Ritual Coffee Roasters, her 15-year-old, six-location business, during shelter in place. One week in, she started selling her first “general store” style item, loaves of bread from her pastry vendor. Just two months later, she expanded to offer a range of products, from handmade granola to bouquets of fresh flowers, almost all from fellow women-owned small businesses. For someone who grew up working at a general store in New York, it’s a natural fit, and post-COVID, Rinaldi plans to keep this grocery-style setup.
“It was really born out of necessity. It is sort of against the spirit of shelter in place to go out for a latte, but what if you can also pick up a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, and some hand sanitizer? So, it was partly this idea of, ‘How do we become more essential, while also supporting other small businesses?’”
The Usual Suspects: Pre-COVID Coffee Consumption
A lot has changed in the past few months but passion for great coffee persists. Since longer-term market data is still important, here’s how we enjoyed our pre-COVID specialty coffee drinks in 2019.
Top ten most popular drinks in the U.S., followed by average price (2019).
Number of lattes sold in 2019
Price over time
based on average price nationally, from 2016 to 2019.
Alternative milk analysis
of all coffee drinks still feature regular dairy milk.
A ranking of our top three non-dairy milks.
still reigns supreme, despite only a 3% increase in sales from 2018 to 2019.
continues to rise in popularity, with a 171% increase in sales from 2018 to 2019.
sales slowed by 3% from 2018 to 2019.
All data reflective of U.S. Square coffee sellers, as of May 2020.