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Cafe Customer Trends to Watch in 2024

  • 6 min read

Trends that are set to continue influencing the café industry in Australia

Trends in the cafe industry often shift due to consumer preferences, economic factors, and new technologies.

Lockdowns and the COVID-19 pandemic saw an acceleration in the rate of change in consumer behaviours and the adoption/acceptance of new technologies. Two years on and the slow return to our ‘new normal’ continues as we attempt to go back to ‘business as usual’.

Cafe customer trends that were underway in 2021 (demand for specialty coffee, outdoor dining, delivery services, use of local and artisanal goods, etc) are now part of the expected ‘norm’.

In 2024, trends that started to appear in 2023 are now more obvious and provide interesting opportunities for cafe entrepreneurs and coffee shop owners.

The Rise of the Flexitarian

The recent spate of social media vegan influencers that have been “outed” for not maintain the vegan diets they promote, has shocked many ‘ethical eater’ (people who have chosen to eat a particular type of diet for ethical reasons). Leading to considerable reassessment by these people of the health and sustainability benefits of a vegan diet.

The rigour and demands of veganism at a time when grocery costs are rising rapidly (due to the “cost of living” crisis). Combined with the increasing availability of plant-based foods, has seen a shift away from veganism toward flexitarianism.

Flexitarian – a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish.

A survey conducted in October 2023, found that in Australia, 19% of people consider themselves flexitarians, eating a mostly plant-based diet with occasional meat and fish dishes.

Short-form Foodie Videos

Short-form video (TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube) is taking eyeballs away from traditional media, internet content and elsewhere; and it's doing it in every area of human endeavour.

As the internet and streaming services replaced traditional/terrestrial channels for information and entertainment, the tolerance of audiences to passively sit through advertising diminished.

Short-form video allowed audiences to skip the ads and view "only the good bits". Giving it's audience an intense and time saving experience that by-passes broadcast territorial viewing restrictions and time-zones.

The surprising continued growth in popularity of short-form video is due to "Baby Boomers". They are the fastest growing group of new account signups for TikTok, Instagram and Reddit. Caused in part by the under-representation of this demographic group in advertising media. Which has forced them to hunt for the things they like and want on social media.

So while Foodie Influencers have been with us for many years now; the rising popularity of short-form video with "Boomers" has created entirely new opportunities that will continue beyond 2024.

Snacking Lifestyle

Snacks continue to emerge as 'status' treats. From their 'instagrammable' appeal to their scarcity (due to ingredient seasonality, limited release or price), snacks are gaining in popularity across all areas (eg. sports, fashion, beauty, nightlife).

The relatively low price point of snacks compared to sit-down meals makes them particularly appealing to a broad spectrum of people. Something that can be enjoyed "without the guilt" when "money is tight" and there is a lot of uncertainty in the world.

Snacks will also be an accessible entry-point for exploring new flavours and cuisines - a "gateway" product for people wanting to expand their palates (and avoid wasting food).

The uncertainty over supply-chains will encourage expanded use of local and indigenous ingredients; as wars impact on food production in parts of the world and cargo shipping becomes increasingly high-risk.

In Australia, the snack food market is expected to grow by 4.59% every year for the next four years.

Empowering Consumables

In these uncertain times, younger generations who have not lived through periods of global turmoil (and may struggle with resilience) will seek to subdue their doubts and helplessness through "empowered" consumerism.

Just as they looked for societal fixes with "cancel culture" and climate change solutions with electric vehicles. They are set to turn to climate and community-positive self-care consumables to nurture their physical and mental wellbeing.

Food and drink offerings that are able to "flex" and adapt to changing circumstances will find them to be loyal customers.

From providing food and drinks that help to manage emotions/stress, to being able to alter ingredients per customer order. Being able to "flex" in 2024 goes beyond making take away coffees in a "keep cup".

Empowered consumables consider every aspect of the item being purchased -

  • Ethical - sustainable packaging, locally sourced ingredients, employee satisfaction, workplace conditions, equality credentials, green energy efficient, zero waste recycling, programs, water conservation, ecological farming, price fairness, subscription convenience
  • Emotional - guilt-free indulgences, creative fusions, inclusive environment, politically aligned, social evangelists, visibility across supply chains, pet inclusive, social media trends (ie. whipped/Dalgona coffee, nitro cold brew, pickles in/on anything), adaptogens (eg. Ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, Schisandra Berry and Panax Ginseng)
  • Health - enhanced nutritional value, dietary restriction supportive, nutritionally balanced, transparent caffeine/sugar content, adaptogenic superfoods, freshness

Putting Cafe Customer Trends into Action

It is important to remember that the cafe industry is dynamic, and trends can shift rapidly.

The trends identified here demonstrate the dynamic nature of the cafe industry in Australia. An industry which is influenced by a mix of consumer preferences, technological advancements, and broader societal changes.

Coffee shop owners can create opportunities from these cafe customer trends by considering how they may be relevant or necessary for your customer-base. It may take you some time to determine how your cafe business might leverage any of the trends. Be patient, giving yourself time to really think about what is helpful for you. Speak with your team for more ideas and inspiration. Decide how you'll test your ideas and once satisfied bring in your whole team to put things into action.

Whether it's updating menu options, reconsidering portion sizes, changing your social media strategy or anything else. Incorporating your ideas for addressing these trends, will keep your cafe business relevant in 2024 and beyond.

For the more insights and detailed data; refer to industry-specific resources and market research conducted within the current year.

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