Exploring the growth of supermarket coffee

Hayley Osbourne
June 8, 2023
An image of a coffee consumer purchasing supermarket coffee, coffee in a supermarket, in an article about the growth of supermarket coffee

Recent studies show over 60% of consumers admit to buying coffee from a supermarket, whether instant, pre-ground, whole bean, or capsule. Despite its obvious convenience and popularity, among the specialty coffee community, there are negative preconceptions about supermarket coffee and its quality.

That said, a growing consumer focus on quality, sustainability, and ethical sourcing practices has driven changes in this market segment. As a result, supermarkets are now offering a broader range of higher-quality coffees.

Let’s explore the growth of supermarket coffee and discover how specialty coffee roasters can successfully break into the market. 

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Supermarket coffee vs. specialty coffee

Research shows 67% of US consumers claim they “usually buy coffee at the supermarket”. While it is an enormous market, it is one that has not been renowned for its quality. However, improving this has been on the agenda for longer than consumers might think.

Many supermarkets are adding specialty coffee brands to their line of products. Jars of instant coffee and robusta-arabica blends are slowly being replaced by higher-quality products sourced from small-scale roasteries, as consumers increasingly search for quality over price.

In the UK, for example, consumers have more choices within supermarkets, with coffee options ranging from low to high-end. “Low-end” coffee often includes blended coffee with a higher percentage of robusta, and certifications do not need to be applied. Mid-range coffee is of commercial quality and can be a blend of robusta and arabica. It can include organic, Fairtrade, and Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee.

“High-end” or premium coffee tends to score 80 and higher on the cupping score, making it a good quality coffee. It is often single origin, and certifications are often included. The upper end of the scale includes specialty coffees. While these can sometimes be purchased in supermarkets, the majority are purchased directly through the roaster of specialty coffee cafes.

By supplying a broad range of coffees, supermarkets offer consumers of all financial backgrounds the opportunity to access the beverage easily. Another reason consumers may favour supermarket coffee is convenience. If consumers are buying groceries in a supermarket, they are more likely to pick up coffee there than go elsewhere to purchase it.

An image of a coffee consumer purchasing specialty coffee from a supermarket, Starbucks chilled coffee, in an article about the growth of supermarket coffee

Introduction of specialty coffee into supermarkets

By increasing the quality of the coffees they supply, supermarkets have provided space for specialty options. This has helped widen the market for specialty coffee roasters, as it means more consumers have access to their coffee than before. 

A prime example of a specialty coffee that has broken into supermarkets is Starbucks. The brand supplies a range of ground coffee, coffee pods, and coffee beans, as well as ready-to-drink options, such as chilled lattes. Through such initiatives, the brand has become highly influential in driving trends within the supermarket coffee industry.

Other specialty coffee brands that can now found in supermarkets include Taylors of Harrogate, Union Coffee, Terbodore, and Equator Coffee. All these brands provide coffee beans and ground coffee. More so, Union Coffee announced that in 2017, the brand brought in revenues of £12.5 million, helped in part due to retailers such as Waitrose and Ocado.

An image of a specialty coffee roaster working on compostable coffee bags in order to enter supermarket coffee markets in an article about the growth of supermarket coffee

Putting your specialty coffee offerings into supermarkets

Having your specialty coffee offerings in supermarkets can have both pros and cons. For instance, by going the wholesale route, roasters can expect the promotion of brand awareness. Being on supermarket shelves can make brands more noticeable and, in time, more recognisable to a wider consumer base.

This could be increased through social media marketing. If brands market themselves as being available at popular supermarkets, loyal consumers will know to be on the lookout for their products. More so, if the design of the coffee bags is intriguing, consumers may post photos of their purchases, further increasing brand awareness for the roastery.

That said, when partnering with supermarkets, roasters will have less control over certain aspects of the product. For example, supermarkets may demand certain quotas be met that require brands to increase their workload or promote products at discounted prices. This could disrupt a roaster’s business model.

It is also important to note that coffee loses freshness around four weeks after roasting. Roasters must be aware that their products could still be on the shelves at this time. This means consumers may receive a lower-quality product than the roaster would usually provide. Therefore, the supermarket may choose to stock whole bean coffee only, as opposed to ground coffee, to maintain shelf life as long as possible.

Roasters willing to relinquish full control over the product and a share of the income could benefit from joining forces with a supermarket retailer. 

Things to consider before pitching to supermarkets

Best before dates: As well as providing a roast date, roasters should include a “best before date” on their coffee bags. This reduces the risk of consumers putting blame on the roastery, should they purchase and drink the product nearer the end of its optimal freshness.

Own brand or white label: When a roaster sells under their own brand name, the product remains “theirs”. However, if it is sold under a white label, it will still be the roasters coffee and product, but it will be sold under the name of the supermarket. Therefore, it is worth considering the pros and cons of each. While both are viable options, according to The Entrepreneur Handbook, white label goods generate a higher volume of sales, and therefore income, with lower profit margins than own brand goods.

If you plan to sell your coffee in supermarkets and grocery stores, it’s essential you choose packaging that stands out. On the average supermarket visit, customers are exposed to more than 40,000 different brands, which means your product could get lost if it doesn’t attract attention.

At MTPak Coffee, our range of packaging options is made from renewable materials. Our coffee boxes are made using recycled cardboard, while our sustainable coffee bags are made using kraft paper, rice paper, or multilayer LDPE packaging with an environmentally friendly PLA lining.

Our coffee bags and coffee boxes can be customised to reflect your brand’s characteristics, as well as vital information about your product. MTPak Coffee offers a wide range of customisation techniques, including spot UV with a glossy, satin, or matte finish, embossing and debossing, as well as hot foil stamping in a variety of colours. We also offer our clients a quick turnaround time of 40 hours and 24-hour shipping time in addition to low minimum order quantities (MOQs) for those looking to remain agile while showcasing a commitment to the environment.

For more information on sustainable packaging for wholesale coffee, contact our team.

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Hayley Osbourne
Hayley Osbourne

Hayley is a writer for MTPak Coffee and is very passionate about her craft.

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