The new wellness wonder-child – coffee industry trends

May 10, 2019By Behind the Shelf Blog, Culture of Wellness, Future of Retail

By Jen Johnston, CHHC, senior marketing services account manager, for the Culture of Wellness blog series

I’ve had a bit of an “on again/off again” relationship with coffee over the years. In fact, I didn’t even start drinking it until I was in my 30’s. (Having kids will do that to a person, am I right?) In time, I’ve come to appreciate the flavor, and I feel gratitude for the energy boost, but I never thought of it as a wellness drink. On the contrary, I’ve always gone back and forth on one question: is this even healthy for me?

Certainly all of the sugar I used to stir into it couldn’t have been healthy, but what about the coffee itself — which was better: Decaf or caffeinated? Conventional or organic? Regular or low acid? In any case, I basically thought of coffee as this necessary evil.

Ironically, I am not the first person to think of coffee as evil. Did you know when coffee first came to Europe, the people suspiciously called it the “bitter invention of Satan?!”

Coffee eventually won over the people, particularly in the U.S., and for generations it has been the quintessential morning beverage — a way to jumpstart the day. But coffee was…well, coffee. It wasn’t part of wellness culture. However, since everything is now wellness, it should come as no surprise to see coffee on this trajectory.

Here are just a handful of the coffee wellness trends today:

Bulletproof Coffee
Bulletproof coffee is a high-fat coffee drink intended to replace breakfast. It contains coffee, grass-fed butter, and MCT oil mixed in a blender. The name comes from the branded Bulletproof® Diet which recommends eating keto for 5-6 days a week and then having a carb refeed day. The coffee beans and MCT oil can be purchased directly from the Bulletproof® brand, but there are hundreds of recipes online because the drink is seen as including “healthy fats” by food tribes like Keto, Primal, and Paleo. There are even recipes for vegan versions. It began taking off in 2012 and hasn’t stopped.

Mushroom Coffee
I’ve always thought of mushrooms as an ingredient I avoid on my salads and pizza, but they are so much more than that. Medicinal mushrooms are experiencing a wellness renaissance, which I will talk about in a future post. Brands such as Four Sigmatic® have blended trendy mushrooms such as chaga, lion’s mane, reishi, and cordyceps with coffee to produce a functional coffee that is instant. This is a great example of a company jumping on the opportunity to grow an underdeveloped segment of the market to bring coffee to the forefront of the culture of wellness. Searches for “mushroom coffee” began rising in the fall of 2016 and have continued to increase.

Cold Brew Coffeewoman with a cup of coffee
My husband got into cold brew last summer in a big way. I saw in QSR magazine recently that millennials are the biggest drivers of the cold brew trend. (Said husband is not a millennial!) It also stated that “sales of cold brew coffee jumped to $38.1 million in 2017, a 370 percent jump from the $8.1 million in sales the category saw in 2015.” People say that taste is driving the trend, but when Katie Wells of Wellness Mama puts a recipe for Cold Brew on her blog, you know it’s crossed over to the culture of wellness. There are tons of Ready-to-drink (RTD) brands popping up, including High Brew, Chameleon, and Califia Farms. Food Navigator shared a prediction by Packaged Facts that “U.S. retail dollar sales of coffee and the ready-to-drink category will exceed $18bn by 2022.”   

CBD Coffee
Coffee shops all over the country have begun adding CBD to their menu as a mix-in option. Now brands are emerging to give people the experience at home. A quick search netted me many examples including Flower Power Coffee Company, Green Roads, and Kickback CBD Coffee. Kickback even offers a cold brew, combining the two trends for more wellness power. Searches for CBD coffee took off about a year ago and have been on an upward momentum ever since.

Coffee Soda
Martha Stewart Living called it “a whole new category of coffee — fizzy, fruity, and super drinkable.” Sometimes called “coffee soda” or “sparkling coffee,” this drink mixes coffee with citrus and carbonation. There are at least four brands embracing this new coffee trend with RTD canned varieties – Matchless, Upruit, Keepers, and Stumptown. Innovative brands such as these will likely contribute to that predicted growth in the RTD coffee market.

Here are some other ways people are making their coffee “healthier” (the cool kids call them hacks):

  • Drink it black (no sweetener)
  • Use almond milk instead of cow’s milk or artificial creamer
  • Brew organic beans
  • Add cinnamon, dark chocolate, or turmeric

Brands are also differentiating their coffee beans with certifications that boost their “wellness cred”:

Gone are the days when you could simply grab a cup of coffee at the Dunkin’ Donuts or pop out the container of instant coffee — this is now a wellness decision!

The wellness gurus tell me things like the French press is better than the drip coffee maker; filtered water is healthier than tap; and unbleached filters are safer than bleached. The addition of coffee to the culture of wellness has definitely made life more complicated.

I don’t know if I can handle the pressure. I’m in one of my “off again” moments with coffee and in the midst of a love affair with green tea. I’m sure I’ll be back “on again” this summer when my husband starts brewing some of that delicious USDA organic cold brew in our French press. I may even add a dash of cinnamon.

There are so many opportunities for brands and retailers to embrace these coffee trends. RTD is only in its infancy. Think of innovative pairings such as coffee and cashew milk, or coffee and kombucha. Think of ways to make coffee drinks Keto, by adding monk fruit or erythritol, or make it Paleo by blending it with maple or yacon syrup. What about introducing a coffee shrub drink? The opportunities are limitless.

Tell a story not only of the flavor, but of the functional benefits of the drink. Do your market research to find out what is missing in the marketplace and then fill the gap. Team up with online wellness influencers on multiple social platforms. Coffee is the new wellness wonder-child — are you ready to embrace it?