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US coffee store growth slows to lowest rate since 2011 as ready-to-drink java sales heat up

  • The total number of U.S. coffee shops is expected to grow just 2.17 percent this year, making it the slowest growth rate in six years, according to a new Mintel report.
  • One coffee category that continues to enjoy hot growth but is still small is refrigerated cold brew coffee, which has enjoyed 460 percent sales growth since 2015.
  • Mintel also said the single-cup coffee market, dominated by K-cups, continues to slow.
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Mike Harrington | Getty Images

Apparently, having more Starbucks drive-thrus on street corners and delivery options is not enough to keep some java junkies from turning to ready-to-drink coffee.

According to a new Mintel report, growth in the number of coffee shops in the U.S. is slowing but the ready-to-drink coffee business is heating up. With more grocery store shelves stocked with different coffee flavors and brands, consumers have found taste, convenience and value in the on-the-go cold brew.

"The ready-to-drink market is certainly a strong competitor to kind of traditional coffee shops because these drinks have become more premium, more specialized and come in a variety of flavors as well," said Caleb Bryant, senior foodservice analyst at Mintel. "And generally they might be less expensive than something you get at a coffee shop."

Mintel estimates the U.S. coffeehouse market will achieve sales of about $23.4 billion in 2017, representing 41 percent growth from 2011. It forecasts coffeehouse sales will reach $28.7 billion by 2021, or up about 23 percent from this year.

However, the researcher said the total number of coffee shops in the U.S. is expected to grow only 2.17 percent this year, making it the slowest growth rate since 2011.

Bryant said Starbucks is focusing on the so-called third-wave coffee with its Roastery and Reserve Bars. "They are offering these more premium third-wave beverages in addition to the kind of traditional Frappuccinos offered at a regular Starbucks," he said.

One factor boosting the premium coffee market is the increased spending power of millennial consumers, who are more willing to try higher-end products.

"Millennials are definitely the primary drivers of the third-wave coffee movement," said Bryant.

He added, "We see across many categories that millennials tend to be more interested in premium options. Now they're a little older and actually have the money to kind of splurge on a specialty coffee drink."

At the same time, the ready-to-drink coffee market is forecast to show 67 percent sales growth from 2017-2022, according to Mintel. It also said the ready-to-drink coffee market is the fastest growing segment within the retail coffee market.

"The ready-to-drink coffee market is growing at a very, very strong rate and one of the fastest growing nonalcoholic beverages in general," Bryant told CNBC.

Canned and bottled coffee is usually found in the refrigerated sections of supermarkets or convenience stores. Popular flavors of the ready-to-drink coffee beverages include mocha, espresso, latte, vanilla or nitro coffee.

Major national brands in the ready-to-drink coffee market include Starbucks, Dunkin' and McDonald's. Other players cashing in on the buzz craze include Chameleon Cold Brew, Stumptown, High Brew, Califia Farms and Lucky Jack.

PepsiCo has an agreement to distribute Starbucks ready-to-drink coffee and energy beverages in certain markets. Coca-Cola has a distribution and manufacturing deal for prepackaged Dunkin' iced coffee beverages, as well as an agreement with McDonald's for the burger chain's popular McCafe ready-to-drink coffee.

Mintel said total U.S. retail sales of refrigerated cold brew coffee have produced 460 percent growth since 2015 and will reach an estimated $38.1 million this year. The popularity of cold brew coffee is attracting major brands but the category remains a small portion of the overall coffee market.

While ready-to-drink coffee remains a strong category, the single-cup coffee market dominated by K-cups continues to slow. Mintel research found about one-third of coffee drinkers view the single-cup coffee pods as expensive, and there's also an unfavorable view of them as "bad for the environment," it said.

Retail single-cup coffee sales grew just 3.7 percent in 2016 compared with growth of 5.6 percent the prior year.

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