Mar 27, 2018

What is going on with coffee?

Coffee Culture’s 4th Wave and Its Impact on Packaging

By: Lewis Jones

While most coffee drinkers will not be aware of the established three waves of coffee culture, they will certainly have felt their effects. The three waves describe the shifting habits of mass coffee consumption which have changed everything from product formats to consumption experience and flavor expectations.

The first wave saw the consumption of coffee grow exponentially whereas the second focused on the defining and enjoyment of specialty coffee. The third wave concentrated on the purchasing coffee based not only on its origin but the artisanal methods of production.

We’re now seeing the fourth wave of coffee culture emerge—the complete democratization of all niche and specialist aspects of coffee culture into the mainstream. Everyday consumers are now even more passionate in the pursuit of the perfect cup of coffee and have a wide knowledge of different formats, consumption experiences, and how provenance affects flavor profiles.

These are the trends we believe are driving the fourth wave of coffee culture and how they’re set to influence packaging design.

Beyond Provenance

Like the wine market, coffee consumers are developing a much better understanding of region and flavor profile and instead want brands that resonate with experience and lifestyle, beyond provenance. Without the need to educate consumers on flavors, wine packaging can afford to be more expressive and approachable, like the labels on Brancott Estate Wines that communicate a lifestyle rooted to the New Zealand landscape.

Coffee packaging will follow suit. The focus of CBA’s recent work for Nescafe’s brand and packaging was expressive patterns and graphics to communicate the emotion and pleasure of high-end coffee experiences, rather than simply focusing on taste or provenance.

Millennial Mindsets

The millennial generation of coffee drinker appreciates and expects a more niche, personalized coffee experience. Latte art has become integral to mainstream gourmet coffee culture, with Instagrammers ready to share their enviably perfect, milky swirls. The Starbucks-born trend of the lurid unicorn-colored frappuccino would arguably have been created exclusively for its Instagram appeal.

High street coffee brands are learning that embracing more unusual, vibrant and expressive color palettes can give an Instagram-worthy opportunity for consumers which only heightens the coffee-drinking experience. We expect to see more coffee packaging from the big players that seek to do the same: striking and provocative packaging design definitely help flag brands on the shelf, and consumers are celebrating this more and more.

The Superfood Trend is Alive and Well

The superfood craze continues to affect categories across the board and coffee is no exception. Turmeric lattes, aka "golden mylk," gained popularity in 2016 due to the spice’s proven health benefits. New brand CLR CFF has invented the world's first colorless coffee drink made from high-quality Arabica coffee beans free of preservatives, stabilizers and sweeteners. We expect this trend to continue finding its way into the mainstream, with high street coffee brands using visual cues in branding and packaging to catch the eye of health-conscious consumers everywhere. These visual cues are often simply, visual representations of the product or ingredients on the pack, but we’re seeing more investment being made in quality packaging materials and finishes that can also help to communicate authenticity and quality.

Transparency and Nutrition

The alarmingly high levels of sugar found in the drinks of many high street coffee chains continue to dominate the headlines. Discerning consumers will increasingly look for nutritional clarity and conscious coffee brands will give it to them. Starbucks has committed to reducing sugar by 25% in their indulgent drinks by the end of 2020 and most brands now offer nutritional breakdowns on menus and online.

Coffee brands looking to align themselves with this trend will need to design openness and transparency into their packaging to gain consumer’s trust. They'll also need to think about new ways of communicating the nutritional values of their products on the packaging. Chocolate brands are leading the way by incorporating factual messaging about what's inside a product, while still hanging on to the sensorial, decadent design cues they're associated with. Mintel recently reported that almost 40% of consumers would choose a product over a competitor if the packaging allowed them to view the food inside, a clear indication that transparency is all the rage when it comes to packaging.

Coffee With a Conscience

Consumers are now more conscious of the ethics of the brands they choose to align themselves with—fair trade coffee sales rose by 8% last year. Similarly, the impact of non-recyclable takeaway cups has been pushed into consumer consciousness, so much so that France banned them in late 2016, which saw compostable cups go mainstream. Brands such as CRU Kafe are developing fully compostable capsules. Kenco’s Coffee vs Gangs initiative has become a core part of their branding, and it gives consumers a conscious choice of supporting a good cause that helps at-risk youth become independent coffee farmers. We expect packaging to become an increasingly important canvas for brands to communicate their environmental and ethical credentials.

Staying One Step Ahead

The arrival of the fourth wave means coffee culture is truly coming of age and stepping into the mainstream. Consumers now care much more about ethics, nutrition, health, the complex relationships between provenance and flavor profiles, and the unique coffee experience a brand can offer them. To stay one step ahead, coffee brands need to design new messaging into their brands and packaging as the fourth wave of coffee culture continues to make its mark.

Find this article on The Dieline

Lewis Jones - Managing Director at CBA London

Share it !

CBA Paris

96, rue Édouard Vaillant
92300 Levallois-Perret, France

+33 (0)1 40 54 09 00

© 2016

All Rights Reserved

CBA is a design agency.
It is composed of a network of 13 offices located across the globe, sharing the same mindset.
Our 305 professionals work passionately everyday on projects for more than 30 countries.

CBA Global en
CBA France FR / EN
CBA Italy IT / EN
CBA Spain ES
CBA Turkey EN / TR
CBA Middle East EN
CBA Asia Pacific EN
CBA Latin America EN / PT / ES

Type your search and hit return


First Name

Last Name

Your email

You will need to confirm your address to activate your subscription
By clicking "Subscribe" you will be agreeing to our privacy policy

Terms and conditions


This site is edited by:
CBA Paris
SASU with a capital of 1 150 000€ Euros
RCS Paris
Headquarters : 96 rue Edouard Vaillant, 92 300 Levallois-Perret, France
Tél : 01 40 54 09 00

Director of Publication : Louis Collinet

This website was developed by :
CB’A Srl
Headquarters: via Lecce 4, 20136 – Milan, Italy

The information displayed on this site concern all CBA Paris entities. These companies are referred hereafter by the name « CBA Group ».

Property rights

All data, text, information, images, photography, videos or any other content shared on this website are protected by copyright. Any reproduction, representation, use or adaptation, whatever the form, of all or an element of this site without the written consent of CBA group will be considered as a counterfeit act and falls under the penalties of Intellectual Property Code.

Brand copyrights
All named and logotyped brands and other distinctive signs which appear on this website are CBA group’s property and / or of their clients. Consequently, any reproduction or representation, and any use of these distinctive signs is prohibited, except with a writtent consent of their owners.

Links generation to
The website allows the set up of an hypertext link pointing towards its content, except using the technic of « deep linking », i.e the pages of should not be integrated within another website pages, but accessible through the opening of a new window.
This authorization should not apply in any case to websites displaying controversial, pornographic, or xenophobic information or which could tharm sensibility or cause public disorder.

Website editor 's responsibility
Website content :
CBA Group has attempted to ensure the accuracy and the update of the information contained on this website ; CBA Group reserves the rights to amend, at any time and without notice, the content. However, CBA group cannot guarantee the accuracy, the precision or the comprehensiveness of the information carried on this website.

Website access :
CBA group companies cannot be held liable for any incovenience or damages related to the general use of Internet, notably in case of service breakdown, external intrusion, downloaded viruses, or damages caused to the equipment or software which would be linked to the use of this website.

Links to other sites :
The site might include links to other Internet websites. Given that CBA group can’t control these sites, CBA group cannot bear the responsibility towards their contents, advertisments, products, services or any other material available on or from these websites. Moreover, CBA group cannot be held responsible for any damages or loss related to a trust relationship to the content, goods or services availables on these sites.

Privacy policy
Visitors are made aware that all personal date collected on this website are automatically processed. Data collected are kept confidential and are aimed at the exclusive use of members and services of CBA group.

These personal data fall under the dispositions of law « Informatique et Libertés » of January 6, 1978.
It is understood that the visitor is given a right of access, amendment or deletion of any personal data related to them, by sending a mail to :

CBA Fabien Godimus 96 rue Edouard Vaillant 92300 Levallois-Perret
or by sending an email to