Understanding Coffee Consumers – The “Dual Drinkers”

dual drinkers
Posted in: Culture
By Mike Ferguson
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Understanding Coffee Consumers – The “Dual Drinkers”

Today, a coffee roaster can’t throw a tryer without hitting another person who is roasting coffee. Look back 30, or even just 20 years ago, and this wasn’t the case. Rapid growth in the specialty coffee retail sector in the 1990’s and the first decade of this century was followed by an equally impressive increase in the number of coffee roasters. The volume and variety of coffee roasters in operation today compared to 20 years ago is buoyed, in part, by a corresponding volume and variety among coffee consumers. Coffee consumption comes in all shapes and sizes, or all palates and preferences. A survey conducted by the National Coffee Association (NCA) and Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) in January 2021 demonstrates that the entire coffee quality continuum is alive and well and capable of supporting a wide assortment of coffee roasting business models. Roasters can benefit from understanding not only the differences between specialty coffee consumers and commercial coffee consumers, but what they share in common within the vague realms of the dual drinker.

“Dual drinker” is the term used in the NCA/SCA survey for people who self-define as drinking both specialty coffee and traditional coffee (i.e. not premium, a.k.a. commercial coffee). 

The NCA has been conducting coffee consumer research for 70 years, asking samples of U.S. adults if they drank coffee yesterday and if they drank coffee during the past week; the results being “past-day penetration” and “past-week penetration” respectively. 

Nearly 6 out of 10 adults (58%) report drinking coffee “yesterday,” 29% indicating they drank traditional coffee and 36% saying they had a “specialty coffee beverage”; thus, 7% of respondents consumed both specialty and traditional coffee yesterday, our “dual drinkers.”

Almost 7 out of 10 adults (66%) say they had coffee during the past week, 42% saying they had traditional coffee and 46% reporting they had a specialty coffee beverage. This is a significant increase in dual drinkers, 22% indicating they drank both specialty and traditional coffee during the past week. 

So, these dual drinkers, who do they think they are anyway? Well, they’re people who like their milk and sugar, for starters. Among dual drinkers who say they had a specialty coffee beverage yesterday, 29% report drinking a frozen blended coffee, 16% had a cappuccino, 19% had a latte, and 12% had a mocha. Only 17% of dual drinkers say they had regular brewed specialty coffee. In contrast, among those who claim to drink specialty coffee exclusively, 27% say they had regular brewed specialty coffee and only 14% said they had a frozen blended coffee yesterday.

Half of dual drinkers (51%) say they added milk and sugar to their coffee yesterday compared to 27% of specialty coffee drinkers. 

Dual drinkers are also more likely than those who drink specialty coffee exclusively to have used a single cup brewer yesterday (35% vs 20%), or used instant coffee (13% vs 5%), or consumed a Ready to Drink coffee beverage (27% vs 10%). Interestingly, 11% of dual drinkers said they uses a Moka stove top brewer yesterday, compared to only 1% of specialty drinkers.

When it comes to roast development, dual drinkers are twice as likely to report drinking a light roast yesterday (31%) as are specialty coffee drinkers (16%). At the same time, 20% of dual drinkers indicate they don’t know the roast level of the coffee they drank compared to 12% of specialty drinkers.

Dual drinkers experience more variety around where they drank their coffee yesterday and are, perhaps, less picky. For example, 12% of dual drinkers purchased a coffee beverage from a convenience store or gas station yesterday compared to 5% of specialty coffee drinkers. And dual drinkers are prolific coffee consumers. Both exclusive traditional coffee drinkers and exclusive specialty coffee drinkers consumed an average of 2.7 cups yesterday. Dual drinkers consumed 4.6 cups of coffee yesterday.  Not surprisingly, dual drinkers are much less likely to say “it’s important to limit my caffeine intake” than are specialty drinkers (17% vs 27%).

While dual drinkers are more engaged with the product than coffee drinkers overall, they are generally much less interested in roast and origin information than specialty coffee drinkers. From certifications to farm information, dual drinkers are just less likely across multiple topics to indicate that this type of information has an impact on their purchase intent. One exception is blended coffee; 50% of dual drinkers say the fact that a coffee is a blend has an effect on their interest in buying the coffee, slightly higher than specialty coffee drinkers (47%). Conversely, dual drinkers are not as interested in single origins as specialty drinkers (40% vs 53%).

If coffee drinkers who appreciate specialty coffee but don’t always insist on specialty coffee are not easy to love for their connoisseurship, we can love them instead for their rate of consumption. At 5 cups of coffee a day, 2 cups above average, a dual drinker with a sweet tooth is an important part of the coffee consumer landscape. 

4 months ago