Coffee Chains Brewing Up Visits

When we last looked at the coffee segment, several of the biggest players were seeing significant visit boosts driven by their seasonal drink releases. As the holiday season approaches, we checked in again to see how these java giants are faring.   

Starbucks Small Store Format Pivot

Starbucks, the largest coffee chain in the country with almost 16,000 locations, outperformed the wider coffee segment in a challenging economic period. The weeks of October 10th and 17th saw year-over-year (YoY) foot traffic down 7.6% and 8.1%, as the challenging economic context and comparisons to a uniquely successful 2021 limited this year’s visit peaks. Still, the company’s YoY visit gaps remained consistently smaller than those of the wider coffee category, showcasing the resilience of this key coffee leader. The upcoming holiday season should boost Starbucks visits even further, as visits tend to spike during high-traffic shopping days such as Black Friday.

Starbucks’ ability to keep its visits higher than the wider coffee category is a positive sign for the company, which recently announced a significant reinvention plan. The chain will look to build on a community-centric model to add locations that focus more on convenience and getting drinks into people’s hands quickly, hoping to convert its unique visitors into regulars. The plan will also see Starbucks diversify its store format to focus on mobile ordering and drive-thru pickup, and expand into the smaller markets it views as having untapped potential. 

Dunkin’ Staying Ahead of Pre-Pandemic Traffic 

Like Starbucks, Dunkin’ performed well during the pandemic but was challenged in 2022 as consumers cut down on discretionary spending. Year-over-year (YoY) visits lagged, although the strong performance the brand saw last year makes apples-to-apples comparisons challenging.

Despite the drop in visits as compared to 2021, the chain still saw year-over-three-year (Yo3Y) growth. Aside from a short-lived dip in September 2022, Yo3Y weekly visits to Dunkin’ show consistent increases relative to 2019, with the week of October 17th, 2022 showing 6.2% growth Yo3Y. While some of the increase in foot traffic can be attributed to the brand’s expansion, Dunkin’s ability to keep weekly visits elevated compared to its pre-COVID period points to the chain’s enduring appeal. And although many consumers are still feeling the strain of inflation, visits may pick up with the arrival of Dunkin’s holiday drinks on November 2nd

Dutch Bros. Doubling Down on Expansion 

While many coffee chains are struggling to grow their foot traffic in the current economic climate, one company seems to be bucking all trends. Dutch Bros. Coffee, an Oregon-based chain, started as a single espresso machine on a pushcart in 1992. Since 2019, the business has nearly doubled its store count to 600 locations across 14 states. The company has no plans to slow down this expansion, with 130 additional locations slated to open by the end of 2022.

Dutch Bros has continued to see consistent growth, both for year-over-year visits and visits per venue. Monthly visits were particularly elevated compared to last year, with September 2022 seeing 30.0% more visits than the equivalent month in 2021, while visits per venue were up 5.4% in the same period. And though June and August did see visits per venue dip slightly below 2021 levels, the gap was quickly righted in September. Dutch Bros’ ability to maintain visit growth is noteworthy, reaffirming that there is plenty of room for the chain to expand. 

Space for Coffee Chains

Despite rising costs, people still want to grab a cup of joe from their favorite coffee shop. And in challenging times, having an affordable luxury like a specialty drink can go a long way toward attracting customers. Starbucks, Dunkin’, and Dutch Bros show that there is demand for their products, room for optimism, and plenty of space to expand.

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