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  • Lifestyle, diet and competing drinks

    While price and incomes obviously part a major role in determining the demand for coffee, it is difficult to ignore the effect other factors, such as competition from alternative beverages, adverse publicity as a result of various health studies, advertising, or lifestyle, may have had on overall consumption. Coffee, apart from its traditionally recognized role as an everyday beverage that is frequently seen as a stimulant and an aid to alertness, is also seen as a social lubricant fulfilling a very necessary function enabling people to socialize. ‘Let’s have a coffee’ is a phrase often used to cover a general request for an informal get-together regardless of whether coffee is to be drunk or not. It is interesting to note that coffee is more likely to be consumed at breakfast, lunch or dinner if these are taken as family meals rather than eaten alone. However as meals are becoming less formal and structured in many countries, more coffee is being consumed out of home, although the home remains the most popular place to consume coffee.

    The type of food consumers prefer may also have an effect on the amount of coffee they drink. Either through habit or taste, coffee seems to complement some foods more than others. This might explain why coffee is generally less popular in restaurants serving oriental foods than in those serving traditional Western European cuisine.

    Competition from other beverages has also been an important factor affecting the demand for coffee. Over the last thirty years or so, soft drinks have become more popular, invariably at the expense of coffee, especially among young people. However, the situation is far from static and the new American-style coffee bars appear to reversing this trend, although the situation varies from country to country. Consumption of soft drinks in the United States has shown rapid growth since the mid 1960s: the percentage of the population drinking soft drinks grew from 47% in 1975
    to 52% in 2009 but down from 58% in 2006. It does appear to have reached a plateau, as very little growth has been achieved over the last four years, and may, if the statistics remain unaltered, even be showing evidence of decline. In Germany, on the other hand, coffee remains the most popular beverage and although the consumption of herbal teas, fruit juices and mineral water is rising, it does not appear to be doing so at the expense of coffee. In Japan coffee is gaining ground at the expense of other beverages, but more slowly than in the early 1980s.

    Price may be a major factor in the change to alternative beverages, but health worries and advertising also provide strong motives to switch to other beverages. Over the years a number of studies have suggested that coffee – in fact invariably caffeine, but the stigma attaches to coffee rather than to all beverages containing caffeine – is linked in some way to some cancers (although a report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer [IARC Monograph Volume 51, 1991] stated that no causal effect could be identified between coffee consumption and cancer), to fibrocystic breast disease and to an increase in the risk of suffering from a heart attack and other related conditions.

    There can be little doubt that the publicity given to the findings of these studies has contributed significantly to the decline in the consumption of coffee in some developed markets. A number of the cola drinks currently on the market contain high levels of caffeine (but not as high as most coffees), and more and more studies have found that coffee may have some beneficial health effects, (such as helping to relieve stress and inhibiting the viruses that cause cold sores, measles and polio), is beneficial in preventing some types of cancer and may delay the onset of Parkinson’s disease. But this positive information does not gain wide publicity and does not yet appear to counteract the effects of the adverse publicity. The ICO is however highlighting some of these benefits of coffee through its Positive Communication on Coffee Programme. Visit www.positivelycoffee.org.

    Fruit juices, on the other hand, are perceived to be healthy beverages and with the trend towards greater health consciousness it is not surprising that consumption of fruit juices has shown rapid growth. In addition, soft drinks, especially cola drinks receive considerably more advertising than coffee.