The Future of Coffee: Three opportunity areas for UK innovation teams in 2024

Egg Soldiers' Insights Lab casts its eye on future coffee innovation areas, identifying robusta-driven Vietnamese creativity, lesser-known beans, and koji-enhanced coffee offerings as opportunities for the UK market in 2024
A cup of coffee on top of coffee beans
The humble cup of coffee has come a very long way in the last ten years. In the UK, a surge of artisan roasters hit high streets as part of coffee's much-lauded 4th wave; branded coffee chains embraced new digital and plant-based frontiers; RTD coffee options captured the imagination of Gen Z consumers; and the at-home coffee pod scene effectively exploded.

But what of the future of coffee in the UK? What opportunity areas should brands and businesses focus on to stand out from the crowd as the UK coffee scene enters new, sustainably-focused, globally-influenced, science-led chapters?

As both hospitality and retail food and drink experts with decades of experience identifying and distilling trends into bespoke, actionable insight for brands both big and small; Egg Soldiers knows a thing or two about coffee futures, with our pioneering Insights Lab this month revealing three coffee areas ripe for innovation in 2024.
The Future of Coffee: The UK lowdown
The arabica bean has long-ruled the roost in the UK, specifically within speciality coffee, delivering a smoothness and quality of flavour that has left its equally-mainstream coffee bean cousin, robusta, with only instant coffee, espresso and blends as areas to fight for these past few decades.

Indeed, robusta suffers from a reputation in the UK for being low-cost and low-quality, despite accounting for around 40% of global coffee production and being the second-most popular coffee in the world. However, the speciality coffee scene is starting to see potential in the high-caffeine coffee bean, with Black Sheep Coffee one of the UK's first mainstream trailblazers within speciality-grade robusta.

Then there's Vietnamese coffee, a creative, vibrant arena chock-full of different styles and ingredient combinations. It's a scene powered by the robusta bean, and it's making a real name for itself right now in the US, with The Wall Street Journal leading with a story on the rise of robusta, "from instant-coffee to premium status", in February.
Sustainability concerns are very much linked to the future of UK coffee, with arabica crops particularly at-risk from climate change-driven rises in temperatures and extreme weather fluctuations. According to a recent study, climate conditions that reduce coffee yields have become more frequent over the past four decades, with rising temperatures from global warming likely to lead to “ongoing systemic shocks” to coffee production globally.

The timing of broader speciality-grade Robusta innovation could well be now, with the traditionally unfavoured bean very much living up to its name in terms of robustness, possessing a genetic resilience to a variety of different environmental conditions.

The issue of climate-resilience is also bringing lesser-known coffee bean varietals into the frame, with liberica entering the spotlight in recent months, while science-led innovation is also starting to take centre stage as innovators look to the brilliantly versatile Japanese mould, koji, to take coffee offerings to the next level.
The Future of Coffee: Three UK opportunity areas

Vietnamese Coffee
Nguyen Coffee Supply is a leading light for Vietnamese craft coffee and the robusta bean in the US, offering a range of speciality-grade ground robusta, phin coffee filters, and RTD cold brews across the country
This one's straight from the horse's mouth, with Egg Soldiers having recently experienced authentic Vietnamese craft coffee first hand during a food innovation safari across Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City only a few months ago.

Champions of the robusta bean, Vietnamese coffee innovators are making serious headway across the US, with consumers drawn to the creative variety of signature coffee styles offered, including yoghurt coffee (cà phê sua chua); Vietnamese iced coffee (cà phê sữa đá); and Saigon-style coffee (bạc xỉu), with traditional slow-drip 'phin' filtering and condensed milk (to offset the bitterness of robusta) both key elements.

New generation coffee houses were real takeaways for us during our trip to Vietnam, with Mono Coffee Lab in Hanoi delivering Cheese Coffee (espresso, oat milk and cream cheese); the Cold Brew Chanh Nướng (with homemade lemon jam and a grilled lemon slice); and the Another Amer (an Americano coffee with homemade salted cream).

Speciality-grade iterations are improving the profile of robusta beans in the eyes of consumers, with the robusta plant's climate-resilience set to be an increasingly prominent point among brands both big and small. Vietnamese craft coffee is a brilliantly creative hub of innovation that, in terms of the UK market, could well be ripe for the plundering by 2024.
Food Trend to Food Concept

What to expect:

  • Understand the state-of-play with Asian-inspired chicken with an expert-led overview, innovator examples, and a spotlight on potential opportunity areas for the UK market.

  • Journey with us through fried/breaded chicken seasoning opportunities, exploring viable retail applications and digesting analysis.

  • Discover a brand-new retail seasoning concept as an example of our 'trend to concept' methodology, with the team discussing ingredient builds and suitability for the UK market.

  • Understand possible range expansions, backed up by AI-led product concept showcases.

Liberica Coffee: Enter Excelsa
Doseover Coffee partnered with The Excelsa Coffee Company (both US) to launch the world’s first excelsa cold brew in April 2023, available either as the original 100% excelsa half-caff, or with a splash of oat milk
As mentioned, liberica is a coffee plant species that has entered the spotlight recently, with its deep root systems allowing for greater access to deep water - a potentially key climate-resilient characteristic not shared by either arabica or robusta.

Accounting for just 2% of the world’s coffee consumption, liberica is known as an ‘heirloom’ species (effectively an old cultivar of a plant grown for food), and is native to Western and Central Africa. Delivering a rich, smokey, floral flavour once roasted, liberica is particularly popular in the Philippines where it's known as Kapeng Barako.

Like robusta, liberica has long been considered inferior to arabica. But today, like with robusta, liberica is starting to emerge from the shadows, with coffee innovators recognising the climate-driven issues surrounding the future of arabica by starting to consider alternatives. Speciality-grade alternatives, of course, with excelsa - said to be a particularly flavourful variant of the liberica coffee plant species - one to watch for up-market coffee roasters.

While traditionally expensive to buy due to its scarcity, long ripening time and labour-intensive upkeep; excelsa is known for its complex and nuanced taste, namely a unique combination of fruity and nutty flavours, with hints of tartness and a mild acidity, and its low caffeine content. Being a liberica species, it is climate-resilient, is able to thrive in a plethora of environmental conditions, and even requires little water to grow.

Commercial viability could well be round the corner for excelsa, with food tech-driven advancements in growing techniques or even hybridisation potentially the key to unlocking broader product opportunities.

Koji-led coffee innovation
Hermanos (UK) will release koji-processed coffee at the end of 2023. It is described as a rich and complex coffee with notes of Prune, Blueberry, Blood Orange, Bourbon Whiskey, Dried Pineapple, Maple Syrup and Liquorice Candy, with the koji process enhancing aromatic compounds and elevating its quality
Used for years in high-end restaurants; koji has taken the wider food development world by storm the past couple of years, with the versatile fungus able to impart bold, umami flavours and deliver striking textural benefits.

Koji has taken centre stage at Egg Soldiers for a while now, starring as a key component in amazake in our free whitepaper, UK Food & Drink Trends to Watch 2023/24.

Now, koji is starting to make a name for itself within coffee, starting with its ability to offset the bitterness of robusta, with a koji-fermented coffee lighting something of a fuse at the 2021 World Barista Championship.

Effectively, koji can be used to ferment coffee beans by turning complex sugars into simple sugars, and producing amino acids and glutamate, delivering a heavier mouthfeel and body to the final cup of coffee.

With taste rightly the key consumer driver within coffee (speciality or otherwise), and koji right at the forefront of UK food innovation (both restaurant and retail); consider koji-powered coffee iterations to spark interest beyond the norm.
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