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COVID-19 Has Dramatically Reshaped Coffee Retail, According to New SCA/Square Report

Major shifts in specialty coffee retail have taken place during the course of the novel coronavirus outbreak in the United States, including exponential upticks in curbside and pickup orders, cashless payments, delivery orders, sales of grocery items, and home coffee equipment sales.

This is according to a report released today by the Specialty Coffee Association and the payment solutions provider Square involving data from millions of anonymized transactions from coffee shops all over the U.S.

The report provides a broad overview of sweeping changes to specialty coffee retail operations that took effect all over the country in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The somewhat staggering numbers — 5,380% increase in combined sales for curbside and/or pickup, or 340% increase in delivery sales, for example — show the remarkable adaptability and resiliency of some retailers. The report does not, however, include data regarding total sales volumes during the COVID-19 period, nor does it note the number of businesses that have closed, either temporarily or permanently.


Ghostlight Coffee in Dayton, Ohio, is one of many specialty coffee retailers that has begun selling grocery items. File photo by Abby Hofrichter, courtesy of Ghostlight Coffee.

“Specialty coffee businesses across the country are evolving their efforts to serve communities and generate revenue during this unprecedented time. Amazingly, three in four Square coffee sellers have been able to continue operating during shelter-in-place, finding ways to adapt to their new circumstances,” SCA Chief Research Officer Peter Giuliano said in an announcement of the new report. “This shows tremendous resilience and creativity, from curbside coffee pickup to grocery store-style sales, home delivery to expanded eCommerce. These trends seem to represent more than a brief 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.”

Here are a few of the most striking numbers from the report:

  • 5,380% combined sales increase in curbside and/or pickup orders
  • 521% increase in coffee sellers offering curbside and/or pickup since “shelter in place,” which the report loosely defines as the era beginning in March
  • 340% increase in delivery sales among coffee sellers
  • 521% increase in coffee sellers offering delivery since shelter in place
  • 26% of coffee shops were cashless by late April, up from 2% in early March
  • 109% increase in subscription coffee sales
  • 129% increase in growler sales
  • 11% increase in equipment sales (coffee makers, electric kettles, etc.), with a median sale price of $139
  • 806% increase in healthcare donation sales
  • Vast increases in the number of vendors selling grocery items such as toilet paper (711%), paper towels (1,400%), family meals (1,100%), eggs (400%) and almond milk (1,100)

See the complete report here.

Here are some more recent resources on COVID-19 and its effects on the U.S. coffee sector from the recent DCN archives: