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Despite Colombia’s robust fresh coffee market – ranked thirteenth in 2013 in global retail volume – Colombian consumers are increasingly switching to instant coffee products. Between 2008 and 2013, instant coffee increased its share of the overall Colombian coffee market by 17 percentage points, accounting for 35% in all retail brewed volume in 2013. While coffee preferences are subject to change, the most common transition is a move away from the instant format toward fresh coffee options, since instant coffee is perceived in some markets to be lower in quality. Colombia’s atypical transformation stems from an increasing attraction to the convenience and flavour versatility afforded by instant coffee, in addition to the country’s historical predilection for weak coffee. Although Colombia is unique, the country’s shift illustrates that instant coffee can provide innovative, better-quality coffee options even in markets with already high coffee consumption.
In 2013, Colombia was the world’s third largest producer of coffee, trailing only Brazil and Vietnam in terms of total exports. Colombia is recognized for growing some of the highest quality coffee in the world, particularly in regards to its Arabica crop– the type of bean most often used in fresh coffee products. Yet, as is the case in other coffee producing countries, until recently, Colombians themselves, were unable to afford the quality coffee grown in their backyard, which was primarily exported to higher income markets in North America and Western Europe. Consequently, most Colombians became accustomed to drinking ‘tinto,’ a much diluted fresh coffee often prepared from leftover beans that were deemed unfit for trade. Even as income levels have increased over the last decade, the preference for weaker coffee for many endures.
Although fresh coffee dominates the Colombia’s coffee market, the taste for less-intense brews has greatly contributed to the rise of instant coffee. In some markets like North America, instant coffee has had difficulty gaining popularity because it is perceived to produce a less robust flavour than fresh brewed coffee. However, this barrier is absent in Colombia, where the mild coffee flavour of ‘tinto’ was the standard. Between 2008 and 2013, Colombia’s instant coffee market increased by 154% in retail volume, recording the second fastest growth of any global instant coffee market, behind only the Philippines.
While the historical precedent for milder coffee in Colombia is important in that it does not inhibit the growth of instant coffee within this traditional fresh coffee market, alone it is insufficient to explain such a significant shift in coffee consumption. Rather, the convenience of the instant format, and the versatility of flavours available, are also integral to the growing appeal of instant coffee in Colombia. Colombian lifestyles are becoming busier and busier due to changes in the labour market thanks to increasing women participation and a rising urban population. The long Colombian workday (which averages from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 pm) further contributes to a hastening pace of life. Accordingly, for many Colombians, convenience is a key factor in purchasing decisions, a trend which clearly favours instant coffee products over fresh coffee, thanks to their easy and quick preparation. Moreover, instant coffee is also gaining popularity thanks its availability in a variety of flavours. Instant coffee mixes, which contain either or both sweetener and creamer, are increasingly popular, as these mixes take the convenience factor one step further by eliminating the need to buy or incorporate other additives. In 2013, instant coffee mixes increased by 22% in value, to account for 12% of Colombia’s overall instant coffee sales. Innovative instant coffee flavours are also important in attracting new coffee consumers, especially among younger demographics.
The substantial shift from fresh to instant coffee in Colombia demonstrates the ability for instant coffee to gain share even within markets dominated by fresh coffee. While Colombia’s particular coffee history is a key factor in its ability to accept instant coffee, the convenience and versatility of instant coffee remain the primary drivers of this shift. A similar trend is evident in Southeastern Europe, where despite the presence of a traditional fresh coffee culture, instant coffee has gained popularity thanks to again to its easy preparation and flavour malleability. In addition to highlighting the most important attributes of instant coffee, these examples also demonstrate the potential of instant coffee to be viewed as the better quality alternative to fresh coffee.