Royal New York

Roaster’s Guide for Coffee Marketing to Millennials

Royal New York roaster's Guide for Coffee Marketing to MillennialsPhotograph courtesy of:

Coffee marketing to millennials!  The specialty coffee industry caters to a wide array of customers on a daily basis. These customers are different in terms of age, preferences, beliefs and opinions. Among the many coffee drinkers in the United States is the millennial generation.  These individuals who are often misunderstood, yet well sought after, by retail businesses and employers.

Lately, the term “millennials” has been creating buzz due to the fact that we consider them the “social generation” with an extremely influential purchasing power. It’s important to study each generation to know how to market your business to them.  However, in this narrative, I will explore who millennials are, what they value, and how we can apply these values to the specialty coffee industry.


The term millennial is used to describe adults between the ages of 18 and 34.  But it’s actually not that easy to define a group of about 80 million people. According to New York Times bestselling author Lindsey Pollack, only 40% of millennials actually like the title given to their generation. This is because there are many negative connotations associated with the term, such as “entitled”. Pollack also mentions that millennials actually embrace their individuality.  They try their best to stand out as opposed to fitting in with a group of people with similar traits.

A huge trend among this generation is personal branding (1). This takes place primarily via social media platforms, since millennials are “digital natives”.  Digital natives, meaning, the first generation to not know what life is like without internet and technological devices. Millennials are an influential group of individuals, making up approximately 23% of the U.S. population. Roughly 75-80 million adults as of 2015, with a purchasing power of $200 billion annually.

According to the SCAA, millennials also drink more specialty coffee than any other generation. The National Coffee Association’s Annual Drinking Trends Report from 2014 shows that daily coffee consumption among adults between the ages of 18 and 24 has more than doubled. This statistic is up 25% from 2000 (2). This long-term trend, combined with this generation’s purchasing power, helps us understand the importance of gearing more marketing efforts towards millennials. Although millennials are avid multitaskers, they tend to be distracted easily.  It is important to use marketing channels that will deliver your message quickly and effectively.

Coffee Marketing to Millennials

According to a trend study by Pew Research, 21% of millennials believe that helping others in need is a huge priority (3). Although this is not a substantial amount, it is a trend that continues to grow.  Also, peers and social media can influence millennials.  If one person posts something regarding a charity or cause, others tune in to read and listen.  In seconds, the entire world is aware of a single issue because of social media and the generation driving it.

This trend study stood out to me because as I encounter young entrepreneurs in the coffee industry, many of them focus on high-quality coffee.  However, the story about the producer interests them the most. As importers, we encounter numerous people who only buy Fair Trade coffee. We also see this trend in direct trade movements and in charities such as Grounds for Health.

Another interesting fact I came across is that 6 in 10 millennials are more receptive to immigrants than their elders (3). This mindset is clear in millennial roasters who embrace other cultures, serve single origin coffees and educate customers on their stories. Origin trips are becoming a necessity.  Roasters are even taking their own initiatives to donate proceeds to producers in coffee-producing countries.

Importance of Experience

In the marketplace specifically, millennials value the experience over the product. This shift in value proposition occurred because individuals in the social generation derive value from all steps of the marketing process, such as product development, advertising, social media interactions, etc. (2). In addition to this, millennials also value companies with proper business ethics. They prefer to buy from companies that they can relate to and respect. They also happen to be the most skeptical coffee-drinking group yet.  Millennials will take their time to research and question company ethics when sourcing coffee and other products (NCA, 2013)-(2).

Customer Engagement

The underlying question is, now that we understand what millennials value, how can we apply these values to marketing and running a business? How can we attract this influential generation?  The answer is not black and white.  However, there are many steps and ideas you can incorporate to help attract millennials.

The first step is to capture their attention.  This is where social media comes in handy. Not only is it important to catch their attention, but we must also give millennials the attention they are seeking. They want to be heard and they want to engage with the companies they choose to purchase from. Millennials value opportunities where they get to connect with others to share ideas and opinions.

By understanding how important the overall experience is to this generation, you can emphasize customer service and attention to detail in every aspect of your business. Create a welcoming environment for customers.  Engage with them in every step of the purchasing process. Simple small talk and a brief introduction on the coffees being served is a great way to boost customer service and entice the customer to return back to your café to try out other interesting coffees.

Menu Design

Business owners can also engage with customers when it comes to selecting menu items. You can ask customers to vote for their favorite products, or host a tasting where you introduce a few options and have them vote on your next big seller. Many companies are taking advantage of this face-to-face interaction by hosting workshops and cupping events. Millennials want you to pick their brains. They want to tell you why they enjoy something and how it can be improved. Encourage customers to interact with you on social media. Create a catchy hashtag and repost customer photos to promote the folks who enter your shop on a daily basis. Customers feel appreciated when they see that they are being rewarded or noticed for supporting your business.

Moving Forward with Coffee Marketing to Millennials

The key to return customers and a positive word-of-mouth marketing opportunity is to tune in to what customers are saying post purchase. Once millennials interact with a product or experience, they immediately turn to social media to share reviews and opinions with peers. We live in a world
where people will stay away from a restaurant or café if it received under 4 stars on Yelp, or negative comments on TripAdvisor. Along with many other millennials, I am guilty of checking location tags and hashtags for a good food spot recommendation. I find myself on a random person’s page saying, “wow that burger looks amazing, maybe I should try this spot!” Not only are you learning from a customer’s experience by reading through your strengths and weaknesses, but you are also gaining a ton of free coffee marketing. Do not be afraid of reading through reviews, blogs and social media comments. Delve into all aspects of social media, and use it as a viral source to reach a wide audience in just seconds.

The information revolution we are a part of allows the millennial generation to access and share a vast array of data in just a few seconds. News, celebrity gossip, restaurant reviews and social media posts are accessible by anybody worldwide with internet access. Instead of developing negative connotations towards the millennial generation, we must adapt to these advancements and embrace them because they set the tone for future business.

Further Reading on millennials and coffee marketing

1) What exactly is a millennial:

2) Millennials in the marketplace:

3) Millennials: A portrait of generation next: