S&D Coffee & Tea, the nearly 90-year-old North Carolina-based full-service coffee company that specializes in custom roasting, tea blending and extracts, has been busy trying to figure out what gets the youngsters going these days.
Providing a benefit to the industry at large, the company has released two white papers based on studies it commissioned with the food-focused consumer research firm Datassential to explore consumer trends, habits and perceptions of the young adult population in the 18-34 range, the group frequently referred to, most often by marketers and space-saving headline writers, as millennials.
Both papers — with the titles “Appealing to Young Coffee Drinkers Along Their Maturity Path” and “Millennials: The Language of Coffee & the Role of Sustainability” — are available through the S&D website. The “Language” paper is the most recent, and arguably the more interesting, following an online survey of more than 900 Americans within the millennial range, all of whom qualified as “away from home” coffee drinkers.
In short, the study concludes that millennials are a finicky group of conscientious consumers who have deeper emotional connections to their coffee experiences than their generational predecessors.
“The language Millennials use and the attitudes they have indicate that they are deeply connected to coffee on an emotional level,” S&D wrote in its report. “For them, coffee is not just a drink, it’s an experience, so descriptors that are solely focused on the bean (such as “bold” or “Arabica”) or basic needs (such as “fresh” or “convenient”) only address one component of the picture for them.”
The company summarized a hierarchy of needs, comprising “basic needs” such as cleanliness and convenience, “enhanced needs” such as seasonal offerings and a comfortable atmosphere and “elevated needs,” where true differentiation and customization can occur by retailers appealing to their customers’ sophisticated and emotional needs.
It all sounds simple enough, but the study results begin to tangle when it comes to defining the language cues that appeal to those needs. For example, 45 percent of respondents said they would think more positively of a place that offers coffee that is “sustainably sourced,” 29 percent said they would choose one location over another if the coffee is “sustainably sourced,” and 26 percent said they would “go out of their way” to a location if the coffee was “sustainably sourced.”
Here’s the kicker: 22 percent of respondents said they know exactly what sustainability means and what’s required to qualify coffee as sustainable. So while more than a quarter of 18-34-year-olds would go out of their way to buy sustainable coffee, 78 percent of them don’t really know what it means.
Where others might see in this the absurdity of human behavior in consumerism, S&D writes, “the fact that the use of this term can alter the consumption behavior of a sizable portion of the target population despite a lack of clarity around its meaning really speaks to the strength of its potential.”