Canadian Vending

Features Coffee Service
Coffee Trends: Fall 2014

The changing tastes of North Americans

September 16, 2014
By Brian Martell


Canada and the United States tend to follow similar consumer preference patterns when it comes to food and beverage.

Canada and the United States tend to follow similar consumer preference patterns when it comes to food and beverage.

There are regional differences in both countries (Americans generally like sweet, Canadians like salty) but for the most part we share common tastes.

It’s no coincidence that we also share similar demographic traits, including average age, dominant cultural influences and English as a first or second language. Sure, there are some differences, even as they pertain to our industry; for example, Canadians tend to drink more coffee than Americans (about 66 per cent more) and that may be a result of climate more than anything else (the biggest coffee drinkers anywhere are Scandinavians where the average yearlong temperatures are closer to Canada’s).


Changing demographics
When it comes to food trends and preferences, it is sometimes the evolutions of taste that are more interesting than the revolutions. In essence, the driving force behind consumer food preference does not come from marketing strategy rooms on Madison Avenue; it comes from our own changing demographics.

In the 1960s, North America was a very young continent; with an average and mean age in the early 20s, the baby boomers were still very young. Consumer tastes followed suit, as did many other factors of a youth culture. Families were larger than today’s comparative and that helped to reinforce the dominance of the youth demographic. Today, families are smaller (you may end up having as many cousins as your parents had siblings) and people are living longer. This has contributed to the shift in taste preference and consumer choice when it comes not only to coffee but also to other food and beverage choices.

Interestingly, roasters have experienced an increase in degree where consumer preference has demanded a more pronounced flavour. Coffees that were once roasted dark were considered the domain of the gourmet trade where everything else was light or “cinnamon.” Now, even Canada’s largest foodservice brand offers a dark roasted coffee to meet the changing demands of consumer tastes. Wrigley’s Gum, the owners of Ascent, have increased the intensity of the flavouring they put in their chewing gum to meet changing preferences (the product’s taste intensifies the longer you chew it).

Sense of taste and smell changes with age
It could be argued that the reason for these changes is that as we age, our olfactory perceptions (taste and smell) diminish, so we are looking for a more pronounced taste experience. Dutch researchers demonstrated this through their clinical testing on two groups: those aged 19 to 33 and those aged 60 to 75. The test results showed a significant drop in taste perception based on age, with men showing the greatest drop.

It could also be the effect of more upscale roasters offering darker coffees to the public as a means of distinguishing their signature style from the mainstream. Indeed, those in the roasting side of the business will tell you that better-grade green coffees can be roasted darker to greater effect than average-grade green coffees.

The flavour gap could become the driving force behind new successful products that will capitalize on the changing taste preferences of older and comparatively affluent North Americans. Coffee and the condiments used in coffee may go through a metamorphosis to higher intensity, as might other beverages and food.

Within the broad context of the Canadian Office Coffee Service market, workers are retiring later and the office demographic is in lock step with the nation’s median age.

This could also spell a shift to more health-conscious beverage and product choices as we try to hold on to youth as long as we can (another byproduct of an aging population).

Whatever the reasons for the shift to darker profiles in mainstream coffee blends, the fact remains that coffee drinkers are asking for a darker brew. Answering this call is not only a sound decision; it could also be the way to stay relevant in a very competitive arena.

Brian Martell works at Heritage Coffee as vice-president of sales and has 21 years of industry experience. Brian has also been the recipient of three prestigious awards: the Don Storey, the Stuart Daw, and the Albert DeNovelus Customer Service awards. Questions, comments, feedback, start a dialogue? Email him at

Print this page


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *