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The New Generation

Coffee filters down a generation

June 19, 2008
By Cameron Wood


Sitting in a quiet corner of a
busy coffee shop on a Sunday morning, Colin Dougherty admits he’s never
actually had a cup of coffee from a vending machine.

newgenSitting in a quiet corner of a busy coffee shop on a Sunday morning, Colin Dougherty admits he’s never actually had a cup of coffee from a vending machine.

But he adds that has more to do with availability than desire.

Colin doesn’t frequent the kindof locations where one can be found … not yet anyway. And it’s forgivable, even for those in the industry. You see, he’s only 14 years old. But unlike many generations before him, he has acquired a taste for coffee.


“I’m not sure why,” he says. “Now I just like the taste. I wouldn’t say there’s any kind of ‘rush’ with it. It’s just the thing to do.”

Colin is like many of his peers, a new generation discovering things beyond what one major soft drink company once labelled as its generation. Teenagers are growing up faster than dandelions in spring, and with that desire to be older, look older, act older comes an affiliation for things once deemed “an adult beverage.”

Although  not  exactly mature byond his years, Colin does say that the “hype” around teens drinking caffeinated beverages – be it a simple cup of coffee to the extra-jolt of energy drinks – isn’t entirely representive of the whole generation.

“It’s better for you than pop, right,” he says rhetorically.

Colin’s friend and classmate Eli Nemeth pipes up, “All the stuff they tell us about how bad pop is and taking stuff out of the school … the teachers are bringing their coffee in to class all the time, and they don’t say anything if we do too.”

“Parents view it as the least of possible evils, and it’s something they do themselves,” says Kevin Osborn, who studies teen coffee-drinking trends as an analyst with consumer research firm Social Technologies. He likens the coffee shop to the soda shops of a generation ago.

“It shows the level of accepability with caffeine and adolecents if we are introducing it into our curriculum. Coffee was not in the equation years ago and now people don’t even think about the consequence,” he says.

Though coffee consumption by teens isn’t well tracked, Dan Raien, a nutrition researcher at the National Institutes of Health, says more children seem to be drinking more coffee, and starting at younger ages.

In 2001, 10 per cent of visits to gourmet coffee and tea shops were by consumers under the age of 18, according to market research firm NPD Group. Last year it was 13 per cent.

From there, the numbers go up. The National Coffee Association says young people are the fastest growing coffee-drinking niche. In 2002, about 24 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds drank coffee. Last year, it was 37 per cent.

Of course, what a number of the major coffee houses and chains are discovering is that this new generation of coffee consumer is frequently more sophisticated than just a double-double.

“What makes young customers good customers is that they generally buy
expensive, high-profit drinks, like Frappuccinos,” says Bryant Simon, an American history  professor who is  writing  a book about Starbucks.

“They are important because they have the potential to become lifelong customers,” he told the Associated Press in an article about teenage coffee drinkers.

And when teens like Colin and Eli enter the workforce, their beverage of choice will be well established.

In Canada, coffee has long held the position of the leading adult beverage,  according to the Cofee Asociation of Canada. The trick remains how to turn this new generation on to the world of coin-operated coffee.

The New Golden Rule

So, how do you keep your best and brightest from crossing the street and taking the next best offer? Hiring is only the first step.
From there, you need to train, coach, engage, support, encourage, recognize, reward, promote and compensate them in a way that will exceed their expectations. Contrary to managers’ perceptions, studies show that money is not the highest motivator in retaining employees; especially in the millennial generation (20-somethings), which places a greater importance on lifestyle and professional challenge. 

As a result, management can no longer live by the former golden rule, “treat people the way that you want to be treated.” A baby boomer’s motivations may be dramatically different than those of a 25-year-old Millennial. Therefore, the golden rule is evolving to, “treat people the way that they want to be treated.”

With files from the Associated Press

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