Despite recent swings in the dining category, consumers continue to crave coffee.
Following dips at the pandemic’s onset, coffee-shop foot traffic returned to pre-pandemic levels around April 2021 and has surpassed 2019 levels since last May, according to a Placer.ai white paper.
In November (+8.4 percent) and December 2021 (+7.5 percent), the coffee segment grew significantly over the previous two years, compared to overall dining, which declined by 6.4 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively.
While visits have returned to pre-pandemic levels, certain behaviours have changed. Since Q2 2020, consumers have decreased their time spent in coffee chains and increased their visits to “late morning,” according to Placer.ai. Both of these trends are likely to continue, especially given that later visits now account for 26.2% of all visits in Q4 2021.
With the introduction of new Covid variants, smaller players such as Caribou Coffee and Peet’s have become more susceptible to foot traffic fluctuations, experiencing a YoY decline in the second half of 2021 compared to 2019.
Meanwhile, Placer.ai discovered that Starbucks’ city cafés have recently experienced significant growth, despite the company’s focus on suburban locations.
Tensions brewing: Dunkin’ and Starbucks’ classic East Coast–West Coast rivalry is heating up as they infringe on each other’s territory. Starbucks increased foot traffic by 30.5 percent year over year in New York in Q4 2021, while Dunkin’ increased foot traffic by 28.8 percent year over year in California.
Dunkin’ has historically had “mixed success” in California, according to R.J. Hottovy, head of analytical research at Placer.ai, but its drive-thrus are helping.
These two face stiff competition from more than just one another: Dutch Bros. Coffee, based in Oregon and which went public in September, has been a “standout story,” Hottovy noted, with its own strong drive-thru business and peak-hour throughput.
Between January 2020 and December 2021, it saw a 170 percent increase in its footprint in California. Additionally, the percentage of Starbucks and Dunkin’ patrons who have visited Dutch Bros. has increased by two points since Q2 2020. Nonetheless, customer loyalty to the two major chains has not been eroded.
“What you will see is a lot of people attempting to replicate what [Dutch Bros.] has accomplished,” Hottovy noted.