Butter coffee and other trends

Brian Martell
September 29, 2017
By
About a decade ago, butter coffee started to surface as a “thing”. The idea was founded in more than just a very rich caloric beverage; the aim was to enhance the well-being of the consumer through an Atkins style regime based on ketosis (limiting carbohydrate intake in favour of fat and proteins).
Canadian coffee consumers who are used to the proverbial “double double”, or affectionately known in the U.S. as “cake in a cup”, might find the idea of adding butter to their coffee a little extreme; but the trend of using coffee as a catalyst for health food is becoming more common. Bulletproof Coffee, promoted to the above ends, claims to offer the consumer a breakfast replacement that will increase energy, suppress cravings and shed unwanted pounds (albeit if you also follow their diet recommendations). The offered recipe includes unsalted butter or ghee (purified butter), coconut oil (MCT), and French pressed coffee all thrown into the blender to make what looks like a latte. Dietitians and health professionals may have a different take on the benefits of using ketosis to lose weight, but many recent scientific studies support positive evidence of coffee’s healthy attributes and impact on
disease reduction.

What is telling about butter coffee is that these trends are surfacing from online marketing efforts to mainstream retail. Later this year, Whole Foods in the U.S. will be offering a RTD (ready to drink) butter coffee in 370 of its stores, manufactured by the Texas company, Piknik. Apparently, there is enough of a market for this product that the industry leader in organic retail foods is willing to take the risk in placing it in its stores. Celebrity endorsement has contributed to the popularity of the beverage and no doubt figured into Whole Food’s calculations, but is it going to follow the green coffee extract trend promoted by Dr. Oz? Considering the size of the North American market for both coffee and health-food products, there is a good chance that butter coffee may carve out an enduring niche in this “cross-over” market. At least three other companies are or have launched a RTD buttered coffee; and with the asking price at the check-out line of north of $5.00 (Canadian) per 10 oz serving, it will rank as one of the more expensive beverage options behind the glass.

The essence of the marketing efforts for these companies focuses on the health benefits with superlatives liberally sprinkled on the naturally occurring attributes of coffee itself. One site speaks to the “packed nutrients like vitamin B, potassium and manganese as well as antioxidants”. Of course they sell coffee on these sites and rightfully note that not all coffees are the same, but with the twist that their coffees are healthier than others by virtue of being organic, RFA or some other attribute. Of course this is not entirely correct; coffee does not become healthier by virtue of a certification. What may also draw consumers is the taste perspective; butter coffee is a very rich product. It does not make a lick of difference how much healthy benefits there are in any given food; if the recipe is not hitting or getting near to bliss in our mouths, it will be condemned to gather dust on store shelves. We have been conditioned over millennia to value foods high in macro-nutrients (carbs, fat and protein) – putting 10g of almost pure fat into anything is going to have a positive impact on the acceptance scale (imagine, if possible, a butter free croissant). And like any good marketing initiative; focusing on the righteous (it’s good for you!) rather than the guilty pleasure (fat) allows consumers to effectively rationalize their purchasing decisions.

Perhaps the most enduring aspect of this trend will ultimately be how coffee has, yet again, re-invented itself as something new. We have been drinking coffee on a near global basis now for almost 500 years (way longer if you throw in how long the Ethiopians and the Yemeni have been indulging) and yet every half generation a new trend comes along to shake up the industry and breathe new interest into something we already love. Butter coffee may continue to grow in acceptance, moving from a niche to a more established market segment, but coffee in and of itself will maintain its cherished position of the king of beverages.


Brian Martell works at Heritage Coffee as vice-president of sales and has many years of industry experience. Brian has also been the recipient of three prestigious awards: the Don Storey, Stuart Daw, and the Albert DeNovelus Customer Service awards. Questions, comments, feedback, start a dialogue? Email him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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