Consumer Staples

Hispanics hold key to winning US coffee war

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Coffee wars between top U.S. brands are set to intensify as coffee houses battle to attract the Hispanic consumer to counter the loss of customers who prefer to drink their lattes at home.

Donut shops and coffeehouses have seen minimal growth since 2007 as single-serve machines have risen in popularity, according to a new report. Over a third of U.S. visitors to coffee shops were more likely to drink coffee at home than at a coffee house in 2012, the study by research firm Mintel found.

But a growing Hispanic population with increasingly greater spending power could be the key to unlocking growth in the coffee market, Jonny Forsyth, global drinks analyst at Mintel and author of the report, told CNBC.

"The growth ceiling is being hit. But suddenly this Hispanic audience who are not only growing in terms of numbers but also growing in terms of incomes are spending more money than before."

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Hispanics are expected to show explosive population growth, making up 19 percent of the U.S. population by 2018, up from 15 percent in 2008.

The group's purchasing power will hit an estimated $1.7 trillion by 2017. In 2012, a quarter of Hispanics claimed to visit coffee houses compared to 16 percent of other Americans.

Food and drinks giants have seen the potential in the Hispanic market and have tried to target it with marketing. McDonald's has featured adverts featuring Hispanic actors and families and has run charity drives to donate money to programs which benefit Hispanic families.

Dunkin' Donuts has also jumped on the marketing drive launching its first Hispanic-focused campaign in 2012, asking "Que estas tomando?" or "What are you drinking?"

(Read more: How your cup of coffee is changing)

Starbucks does not actively target Hispanic customers, according to Mintel's report, but the "aspirational lifestyle ethos" and "mini-community" feel of the chain, fits with the values of Hispanic people.

But Forsyth is also expecting the Hispanic drive to go further than just advertising.

"We are going to see a lot more use of Hispanic cultural flavors and foods," he told CNBC. "It is going to be partly about marketing to the group and reflecting values, but also about providing food options that they will be more familiar with culturally."

—By CNBC's Arjun Kharpal: Follow him on Twitter @ArjunKharpal

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