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NCA Market Research Series

In the Field

There’s something exciting going on. It happens each year around this time, but gets little fanfare or attention. It goes on quietly behind the scenes, but causes quite a stir when it’s done. The buzz begins in six weeks, when some key outcomes become public information.

What’s going on is an annual consumer survey that measures the U.S. coffee quotient like no other study. It tracks American coffee consumption across the category and on a pre-competitive basis. Conducted for 60+ years, it compiles the longest running historical record of changes in American coffee attitudes and behaviors.

The study is the NCA National Coffee Drinking Trends, or NCDT, which is currently in the field. Key findings are revealed at the NCA Annual Convention, taking place this year on March 21-23 in San Francisco.

The NCDT takes the pulse of American coffee consumption like no other market research study. Key measures of consumers’ overall relationship with coffee are determined through a sophisticated questionnaire administered online to a demographically correct sampling of American consumers. Results are tabulated, analyzed and presented in targeted NCA Market Research Series reports.

Many variables are tracked and logged consistently across the years, while other questions are newly developed or rotated in. In this way, the research preserves unique continuity while engaging important new data to jump on important developments and trends. The goal is to provide the type of information that will enable senior strategists, marketers and executives to market their brands and plan for future products.

The NCDT Report provides a broad range of key data and analysis – average daily consumption for the past day, week and year; how, where and when coffee is consumed, including both home and workplace consumption; how often coffee is consumed, during which times of day, and in what quantities; consumption by life-stage and age, and more. Also in the report are assessments of consumer attitudes about various coffee drinks, flavor additives, and the effect of the economy on U.S. coffee consumption. A full data set is also available.

Other reports in the NCA Market Research Series take deep dives into targeted areas of interest. The Single Serve Format: Evolving Perceptions, Continued Growth presents a deep analysis of consumer behavioral and attitudinal data with regard to the exploding single-serve format. Recent analysis reveals significant changes in consumer adoption and continued opportunities for growth.

The NCA Ethnicity and Coffee Report zeroes in on the fast-growing Hispanic-American population to determine distinct attitudes and behaviors. To get an accurate profile of this large and complex population, NCA selected a research sample that matched the U.S. population distribution, offered the questionnaire in English and Spanish, and further separated out data based on acculturation levels. Data on African-American consumption are also included.

Convention Sneak Peek
While the NCDT Report is published in late Spring, top-line data are pulled and fully analyzed for a sneak peek during the NCA Annual Convention. A general session graphically presenting key findings from the year’s survey will take place on Friday, March 22 at 11:10 a.m.

With this preview, along with later reports, marketers can devise brand and marketing strategies calibrated to match consumers’ preferences in real time. With the added perspective of years of consistently tracked NCDT data, they can also glean shifts and patterns that can sharpen their forward-looking strategies and competitive edge.

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Single-Cup Brewing: Coffee’s New Black?

Single-cup coffee brewers are catching on with consumers in a big way. In 2012, ten percent of daily coffee drinkers told NCA they now own a single-cup brewer. That means ownership has grown by 900% since the brewers first hit store shelves seven years ago.

Nearly twice the number of coffee consumers said they made some coffee yesterday using a single-cup brewer. That’s an increase of 175% just since 2010, and 110% from last year alone.

Just visit a supermarket, big box retailer, home goods outlet or even small appliance store, and the anecdotal evidence stares you in the face, too. Coffee aisle shelf space has been reapportioned to accommodate single-cup capsules, and entire new sales floor sections have been created at retailers who sell the machines.

Ramping Up
When single-cup brewers hit the shelves in 2005, it was the first big change since Mr. Coffee was born in the late 1970s. The expectations were high – a convenience driver for consumers and a sales leader in a brand new segment. But for some as yet unknown reason, the initial reception did not match the aspirations.

When NCA first tracked consumer adoption in 2005, just 10% expressed satisfaction with the single-cup format among the 59% of consumers who had heard of it. Today, 57% rate the system highly out of the larger pool – 71% of consumers — who say they are aware of the format.

In the interim years, sales grew at just 1% each year, with ownership reaching a mere 3% by 2007. But going into 2012, ownership had spiked by 3 percentage points. At the same time, purchase intent for personal use had jumped to 16% from 2% in 2005, while plans to buy as a gift rose from 1% in 2005 to 15% in 2012.

And the momentum is clearly accelerating. Those who have bought a single-cup brewer within the last six months grew to 36% this year from 29% in 2007. That means more new purchasers are jumping into the format. Owners are relying heavily on their purchases, too. In 2012, 51% used it to prepare 70-100% of their coffee, while just 31% made 29% or less of their coffee with the brewer.

All of this growth has made single-cup brewing the second most commonly used coffee preparation method on a past-day basis. While drip coffee makers retain the lead, their share of consumer use is waning. In 2012, 61% of past-day coffee drinkers used a drip pot, after a steady decline from 70% in 2011 and 77% in 2010.

These statistics come directly from what consumers told NCA in its annual survey of U.S. coffee consumption. The attitudes and behaviors discussed here make up just a fraction of the market data collected and analyzed. This research was recently published in The Single Serve Format: Evolving Perceptions, Continued Growth, part of the NCA Market Research Series. All reports are available at

The report takes a deep dive into attitudes and behaviors of consumers to the single-cup format, and offers analyses of many additional factors, including: age group, gender, family setting and income; geographic location; types of coffee brewed; time of day; share of cups; and place of usage, along with attitudinal analyses covering ease of use; retail availability; taste perceptions; price level attitudes; and shared word-of-mouth messages. All current NCA Market Research Series reports are available at

Going Forward
Whether you are a consumer or marketer, single-cup brewing is compelling news. Manufacturers had hoped that convenience would drive rabid consumer acceptance and use. As consumers overcome initial hurdles of attitude and habit, convenience may be driving them rapidly into the format. With that, manufacturers, along with coffee roasters and retailers, may finally be seeing their initial expectations coming to fruition.

It will be an interesting story to watch unfold as NCA continues to track the numbers, behaviors and attitudes. Brew up a cup of coffee and stay tuned.

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