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Canada’s Evolving Coffee Industry: Q&A with Robert Carter

coffee roast beans
coffee roast beans
Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Robert Carter, President of the Coffee Association of Canada, discusses the impact of the coffee industry on Canada’s economy and where the industry is headed post-pandemic.


How has importing coffee benefited Canada’s economy?

The coffee industry in Canada represents over $6 billion in category size and that includes the sale of coffee directly to the consumer. Coffee is an important part of Canada’s economic structure. Canadians love their coffee — we’re second or third in terms of coffee consumption from a global standpoint. The import of coffee into Canada is big business and is incredibly valuable in terms of the number of jobs and the economic stimulation that it provides to the local economy overall.


Tell us about Canada’s role in sustainability in the coffee industry.

It’s part of our mandate through the Coffee Association of Canada to provide support as much as we can to the origin countries that we import from. The association has taken the initiative and the lead in bringing global coffee associations together under one global group. We’re taking the lead on bringing Britain, France, Sweden, Germany, and Japan together for regular meetings to discuss bigger issues such as sustainability and fair wages for farmers and people in the origin countries we import from. We recog­nize that on the global stage, Canada may not be as influential overall.

Our mandate is to work with other global associations on these important topics and bring all of our resources together to address some of these critical issues like sustaina­bility. The end goal is to ensure that we have a viable industry for future generations.


How has the pandemic changed in-home and out-of-home coffee consumption?

Overall, coffee consumption as a whole didn’t change if we look at the top-line level. The frequency and volume of coffee consumption remained stable. What took place was a dramatic shift from out-of-home coffee consumption to in-home coffee con­sumption. With stay-at-home orders and restaurants having to close down, out-of-home consumption shifted dramatically to in-home.

We saw a dramatic increase in the pur­chase of coffee machines for the home, but not just basic drip coffee machines. A lot more consumers were purchasing sin­gle-serve coffee machines and espresso machines. Consumers were really upgrading their coffee machines and the types of coffees that they were preparing in-home. Coffee consumption remained stable, but there was a significant shift in terms of how consumers were accessing their coffee.

The coffee industry is shifting from traditional types of coffee to much more innovative coffee beverages and flavouring. The industry is also attracting younger consumers — coffee is no longer just your parents’ favourite drink.


What is Canada doing to rebuild the out-of-home coffee market?

The Coffee Association of Canada has a piece of global-leading consumer research based on data collected from going out and speak­ing to consumers on a very frequent basis. Historically, we’ve done this research once a year. When the pandemic hit, we shifted and began conducting this research every two months to really understand consumers’ feelings about both in-home and out-of-home consumption.

We’ve taken that research and armed our members with an understanding of what the barriers are for consumers to get back into out-of-home consumption and into coffee shops, along with understanding what coffee shops and quick-service coffee players need to do to make sure that people are comfortable understanding how to attract more consumers. We’ve taken an aggressive position in understanding those motivators that get consumers back out into the marketplace and help our restaurant membership and the industry overall so they can start to capitalize on the restaurant industry’s rebound.


Where do you see Canada’s coffee industry headed as we head into the new normal?

The coffee industry is really evolving and there’s a lot more innovation taking place. We’re seeing great innovation on the produ­cing side. We’re also seeing great innovation on the consumer-facing side. For example, cold brew and nitro cold brew coffee have really started to explode. The coffee industry is shifting from traditional types of coffee to much more innovative coffee beverages and flavour­ing. The industry is also attracting younger con­sumers — coffee is no longer just your parents’ favourite drink.

Not only from the producing side, but from the consumer side, we’re going to continue to see innovation help drive the industry forward.


How is the Coffee Association of Canada progressing alongside the coffee industry?

We’ve really made an effort to evolve the association to be reflective of the changing dynamics of the market. We recently launched a new council called the Innovation Council. The members are 40 years of age and under and their role is to identify where the coffee market is headed while making sure that the association is representative of the new realities in the coffee world. The council is also responsible for getting younger people involved in the association as well.

The association has gone through some dramatic changes in the last couple of years to be much more reflective and inclusive to the industry as a whole.

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