An RTD Coffee Boom Is Brewing, But Will It Take Off?

Single O

RTD coffee is ready-to-drink coffee that’s usually chilled and comes pre-made in a can or a bottle. The concept was first introduced in the mid-1990s when Starbucks began selling their frappuccinos in cans in their US stores.

Fast forward to recent years and the buzz around RTD coffees is back — surprisingly, even here in Australia, a nation full of notorious coffee snobs. PepsiCo has long partnered with Starbucks to distribute its RTD coffee in the US and, recently, Starbucks teamed up with Nestle to bring the drink to Southeast Asia, Oceania, and Latin America.

One of the biggest developments in the category is Coco-Cola, which acquired the coffee brand Costa and announced its own RTDs.

“The Costa brand has potential for expansion into read-to-drink coffee across many markets globally,” James Quincey, CEO of Coca-Cola, shared when the company outlined its rationale for the acquisition in 2018, according to Beverage Daily.

In Australia, specialty coffee roasters Seven Seeds, Code Black, Industry Beans, and St Ali have all experimented with RTDs. This month, Single O, one of the country’s best-known coffee roasters and café brands, announced its own RTD, an iced latte in a can.

Single O
Image: Single O

The drink replicates the tapped iced latte served at Single O’s Surry Hills and Newstead cafés and is made with a shot of coffee, oat milk and a touch of sweetness.

“It’s got moreish flavours of ripe berry and chocolate with a malty sweetness,” says Dion Cohen, co-founder of Single O. “Each can has a QR code, inviting customers to determine if coffee in a can is something Aussies want. It’s a fun, interactive way to engage with our community, and we can’t wait to hear what they think.”

Cohen says two positives of RTDs are the fact they’re cold and convenient. RTDs match fast-paced lifestyles, he says. They can deliver an exceptional coffee experience in a ready-to-enjoy format.

Back in January, Mintel research found that American Gen Z consumers are “significantly more likely” to drink RTD coffee than traditional hot brewed coffee. It also found that only half of Gen Z consumers own a drip coffee brewer — against 60% of all coffee consumers. It’s worth noting that that overall number is likely far less in Australia, which is known for its strong café culture.

“Gen Z’s preference for cold coffee indicates key growth opportunities for RTD coffee brands and a need for roasted coffee brands to connect with Gen Z consumers or risk future declines,” says Caleb Bryant, an associate at Mintel.

RTD coffee in a can
Image: Getty Images

Cohen says Single O’s journey into convenient coffee has been quite the adventure, starting with drip coffee bags that let you enjoy high-quality beans while travelling.

“They became a hit, and our customers loved the experience,” he says. “Now, we’re taking it a step further with Iced Latte Pilot Can, which offers the same quality and taste that we serve in our cafés, but in a can.”

It’ll be up to Single O’s consumers then to tell the brand whether to continue the iced latte in a can, evolve the range, or discontinue it.

“We’re committed to remaining restless in our coffee innovations around quality and sustainability,” says Cohen. “How we’re engaging our coffee community with this pilot can is exciting so that’s something we’ll continue to do also.”

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