China’s coffee craze gains pace

China’s coffee craze has gained pace with the growth rate in consumption on premise 25 per cent higher last year.

According to research from Mintel, China’s on-premise coffee market value reached RMB64.7 billion (US$9.6 billion) last year, up 7.5 per cent on the year prior, when the growth rate was 6 per cent. It is predicting growth to resume to 6 per cent annually from this year until 2023.

However, while sales by value are thriving, Mintel estimates that the number of on-premise coffee house outlets shrank by 2 per cent as fewer new stores opened than closed. But that is half the decline of a year earlier.

“Like many industries across China, the on-premise coffee market is not immune to the influence of New Retail,” said Belle Wang, associate food and drink research analyst at Mintel.

“The quick expansion of New Retail coffee businesses across the country has stimulated more coffee consumption among consumers, resulting in strong sales volume. With the growing momentum of New Retail coffee shops, and an increasing number of international and domestic brands entering the market, consumers today have more options when it comes to coffee. As such, the industry will see positive growth rates over the next two years.

“However, this growth will slow down, largely due to Chinese consumers’ traditional behaviour of drinking tea and the country’s thriving tea shops,” said Wang.

Mintel expects positive volume growth in the next two years, at 0.6 per cent from last year to this year and a further 1.2 per cent between this year and next, to reach an estimated 74,000 coffee houses by 2020.

Convenience versus traditional

When it comes to choosing where to get their caffeine fix, more Chinese consumers today are purchasing coffee from convenience stores than traditional coffee house chains. Mintel’s research reveals that 52 per cent of Chinese consumers (survey sample of 3000) buy coffee at convenience stores compared to just 44 per cent who purchase it from a traditional coffee-house chain.

About 23 per cent of consumers who drink on-premise coffee at least once a month have done so at new retail coffee houses.

“Our research shows that more on-premise coffee users get their coffee from convenience stores than from traditional chain coffee houses. This is perhaps due to Chinese consumers associating convenience stores with a full range of breakfast options. Convenience stores are also viewed as easily accessible and more affordable. Given this upward trend, other coffee vendors could introduce unique features, like providing various food and coffee pairings, in order to compete,” said Wang.

“While New Retail coffee is experiencing a lot of growth at the moment, consumer engagement remains low – partially because they are still relatively new. However, there is an opportunity for New Retail coffee houses to catch up in terms of popularity by offering aggressive discounts and delivery service.”

That said, big discounts alone will not be sufficient, as discounting is neither the best nor a sustainable strategy for a long-term business plan. There needs to be other merits such as offering healthy mix-and-match meal deals,” Belle added.

Latte the top choice

Mintel’s research reveals the favourite coffee beverages consumed in China’s coffee craze. More than half of on-premise coffee consumers order lattes (54 per cent) or cappuccinos (52 per cent). These are followed by mocha (45 per cent), Americano (38 per cent), flavoured coffee (36 per cent), espresso (26 per cent) and cold-brew coffee (23 per cent).

A relatively new concept in China’s coffee craze is coffee mixed with plant-protein milk, with 22 per cent of on-premise coffee consumers ordering it.

“Lattes and cappuccinos are the most popular drinks in coffee houses as they are generally very palatable due to their creamy texture and rich dairy flavour. Furthermore, as they are usually widely available, they are often a first step into coffee appreciation,” said Wang.

“Once consumers fully appreciate these basic beverages, they are more likely to try non-milk based drinks, like an Americano or cold brew coffee. However, only offering basic coffee selections makes it difficult to stand out in the homogenous coffee marketplace and attract more coffee consumers.

“As such, coffee houses can take inspiration from tea shop drinks by making their offerings more visually appealing and ‘instagramable’ in order to draw attention and pique consumer interest,” Belle concluded.

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