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Predicting the future of RTD cold brew coffee

The ready-to-drink (RTD) coffee market is growing rapidly as each year passes. Notably, the market’s value is expected to reach $7.23 billion by 2030. This rise in demand fuels endless opportunities for specialty coffee brands to stand out, be it online or in-store. Brands are standing out by offering an array of new cold brew coffee flavours and innovative packaging options. That said, businesses must be able to capture the attention of new consumers while strengthening their relationship with existing ones. 

Rapidly evolving consumer preferences are driving much-needed innovation, placing brands under increased pressure to ‘go the extra mile.’ Businesses must offer creative diversity in their product offerings to remain competitive amidst the landscape.

So, how can brands ensure they remain relevant in a quickly changing market? They must stay ahead of the curve. To learn more about the potential future of RTD cold brew coffee, I spoke to Adam Holliefield, Cold Brew Manager at Coffee Support LLC, and Randy Anderson, the Chief Percolation Officer at Cold Coffee Percolation. 

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Will the popularity of RTD cold brew coffee continue to grow?

When it comes to the cold brew coffee craze, the question on everybody’s lips is: “When will this stop?” No longer a trend, it’s evident that the cold brew coffee hype isn’t going anywhere. The industry has seen significant growth since its rise in demand.

Adam has evolved from a local roastery barista to director of Cold Brew Operations at Coffee Support and SQF Practitioner. He believes the future for RTD coffee beverages looks bright. 

“Specifically, now that there are more independent brands emerging as big-box retailers with their whole bean products, I believe RTD canned beverages will soon follow,” he explains. “Independent brands are evolving and innovating to stand out on the shelf. We’re also seeing more private-label production facilities emerge that are partnering with brands to turn out new products quickly.” 

Research shows that the customisation of cold brew, the addition of sweeteners and milk, and the variety of flavours available significantly contribute to its growing appeal across diverse consumer tastes. Therefore, brands are working tirelessly to expand cold brew offerings to meet consumer expectations, all while maintaining the quality of the coffee throughout the innovative process. 

Randy has over 12 years of expertise in cold brew coffee. He reflects on similar growth in the beer brewing industry. 

“I can remember back in the 80s when craft beer was seeing growth in a new kind of beer—the IPA,” he says. “Then came the sours. Then, we saw very expensive dark beers such as Imperial Stouts, which are barrel-aged for a year. 

“The future growth will be the continuation of what we are seeing now: acquisitions. La Colombe, Blue Bottle, Stumptown, and so many more. As Westrock’s new Arkansas facility brings more big brands online, more producers and co-packers are handling many more brews,” he explains. 

Randy adds that “shelf stability is and will continue to become less expensive and more accessible. This expansion into the mainstream will allow premium offerings to increase pricing, much as the craft beer industry does.”

RTD cold brew coffee: An evolution of flavours

Coffee roasters have very little space to hide when it comes to cold brew. The cold brewing process eliminates harsh and bitter flavour notes that hot brewing may easily conceal. Modern coffee consumers are yearning for exotic flavour profiles and unique cold brew blends that go beyond the traditional beverages their parents prized.  

Adam notes how coffee businesses can lean into these challenges and thrive amidst the landscape. 

“Artificially flavoured RTD coffee beverages have dominated the market for some time now, and they aren’t going anywhere,” he says. “However, we are seeing the emergence of higher-quality black cold brews on the market. We can look back to the RTD’s Modern Times, which were maybe just too ahead of their time but offered single-origin and even barrel-aged cold brews that rivalled coffee you could get at even the best cafes. This is the direction I believe brands will take to stand out.”

Beyond this, health-conscious consumers are a driving force of change. More brands are incorporating ingredients that are beneficial to consumer health, such as adaptogens, nootropics, and superfoods, into RTD cold brew products. 

Furthermore, to cater to diverse palettes and health-conscious consumers, brands are experimenting with rarely used flavours within the coffee industry. These include lavender, turmeric, and even exotic fruit infusions. 

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The importance of RTD cold brew coffee packaging

As with any product, cold brew coffee packaging plays an incredibly crucial role in conveying to consumers what’s inside. 

Adam emphasises the importance of having your cold brew packaging stand out. 

“RTD cold brew will look to, and copy, other beverage segments that have a long-standing history and proven product formats,” he says. “Usability, sustainability, and uniqueness are all crucial considerations brands should leverage when choosing their packaging type. 

“Multi-serve bottles and bag-in-box (BIB) formats will continue to grow, as well as cans, as they’re accessible and have the most potential profit margin. Variety packs and branded case-packs of RTD beverages will emerge for curious consumers that want an assortment of options.”

Flexible packaging solutions, such as BiB or cold brew coffee pouches, offer ease of use, simple storage and transport, and much-needed environmental benefits. These forms of cold brew coffee packaging significantly reduce waste while offering convenience for both coffee roasters and consumers. 

Randy adds that flexible packaging will grow in food service as more coffee retailers, hotels, and restaurants adopt cold coffee. 

“Cold brew will evolve into cold coffee with methods like flash brewing, vacuum brewing, and cold parking. Additionally, young consumers will begin switching from smooth and mellow cold brew to extraction methods with richer, brighter, fruitier, and more diverse flavour profiles that cold brewing or immersion can’t produce. This will show up in RTD as well as in-store production.”

At Cold Brew Pak, we offer you the best of all worlds with packaging solutions that are certified food-safe and are made of compostable materials certified by DIN CERTCO. Our diverse portfolio includes bag-in-box, custom cans, BPA-free bottles, pouches, cartons, and subscription boxes to suit your branding and customer needs. 

About the author

Holly Szakal is a Melbourne-based copy and content writer and is deeply immersed in her city's vibrant specialty coffee culture. She infuses the rich aromas of the specialty coffee scene by delivering compelling narratives on the industry's current events.