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The soluble coffee sector is a tale of two markets, says Matthew Barry, a beverages analyst at Euromonitor, with growth in developing markets but decline in established ones.

Although instant coffee is a growth market worldwide, much of that growth is coming from developing markets, especially in Asia, where non-coffee drinkers are entering the category for the first time by way of instant.

However, in the developed markets of North America, Australasia and Europe (both Eastern and Western), the category is struggling. It is forecast to shrink in North America, Australasia and Western Europe outside of Turkey, growing slowly in Eastern Europe.

But instant coffee brands are not letting the US$10 billion market of these four regions slip away without a fight. New, value-added strategies are being developed to hold off the threat, focusing on shaking the low-quality stigma that plagues the category in developed markets. They face an uphill task though, as third-wave coffee culture and the spread of fresh pod machines pose major impediments to any instant coffee revival.

Some instant coffee producers are trying to integrate the ideals of ‘the third wave’ into their products, which has previously largely passed instant by. This means paying attention to factors like coffee origins and, above all, trying to make instant coffee blends that can compete with fresh on taste. Also important is leveraging the simplicity and convenience of instant coffee.

An example of how this might look comes from the US, where San Francisco-based Sudden Coffee is trying to convince high-end American coffee drinkers to give instant another chance.

Developed by freeze-drying brewed coffee using a proprietary method, each 8oz tube currently sells for a premium and claims to be the best-tasting instant coffee on the market. Still made like regular instant (by mixing with hot water), Sudden Coffee makes at-home third-wave coffee accessible for those who don’t want to deal with complex and time-consuming brewing methods.

Another interesting approach is being taken in the UK, where a brand called Truestart has produced an instant coffee marketed as a ‘performance coffee.’

The idea is that while there is strong evidence that caffeine improves athletic performance, caffeine levels in brewed tea and coffee tend to vary too much to be ideal for athletes, while energy drinks tend to contain sugar and other additives. Truestart makes it easy to select the precise amount of caffeine required, allowing for customised caffeine levels tailored to individual needs in a way that is difficult to do with any other product.

For more information see the forthcoming November 2017 issue of Coffee & Cocoa International.

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