Consumer Watch: Fighting that coffee urge

By Susan Edmunds

We love them but wish we didn't. Cafe coffees are costing us a bomb

Coffee addict Lesley Khan. Photo / Doug Sherring
Coffee addict Lesley Khan. Photo / Doug Sherring

New research says people are giving up cafe coffees to save money as a significant number of New Zealanders worry about the amount they spend on their caffeine fix each week.

Research by Canstar Blue claims that 43 per cent of people who had visited a coffee chain in the past six months had cut down on coffees to save money. But canny marketing - and habit - aims to keep them coming back.

Andrew Murphy, senior lecturer in marketing at Massey University, said coffee chains worked hard to build customer loyalty.

The most common tactic was a loyalty card, with which customers get a free coffee after they have bought a certain number.

"It's a false economy because prices go up to fund that but at least you feel like you're getting something," Murphy said. He said that habits had changed and cafe coffee had become expected in some situations.

"We had a meeting and provided filter coffee but they still wanted to find a coffee cart. It's not the coffee so much as the way it's presented."

And that coffee smell emanating from chain stores? It may be from a can. "Starbucks doesn't roast its beans on site so, if you can smell it, it's likely artificial," Murphy said, pointing out that cafes that did roast coffee beans on site usually did so in clear view to tempt passersby.

More than a quarter of the survey's respondents said they drank more than three coffees a day, 10 per cent had tried to give up coffee in the past year unsuccessfully, and 13 per cent felt stressed by the amount of money they spent on coffees.

Most stressed about their spending were Aucklanders and younger consumers. Women were more likely to have given up cafe coffees to save money - almost half said they had restricted their habits.

Coffee drinkers in Otago consumed the most - 20 per cent had three or more coffees every day.

Muffin Break spokesman Gary Croft said coffee had become more expensive because of retailing costs. A standard coffee at one of his branches cost $3.20 a decade ago. Now, it's $4 and he said people would cut back on food rather than coffee. Customers also expected better quality.

That is borne out by the survey: more than half of the respondents said they would go out of their way for a good coffee.

Murphy said coffee buying was more about habit than addiction.

Derek Bonnar, NZ general manager of Canstar, said: "NZ has a strong coffee culture and has been referred to as the 'land of the long flat white'. A regular barista-made coffee is an affordable treat that many people still enjoy."

But while cost may worry us, the survey did not identify any health concerns. Catherine Sissons, of Nova Nutrition, said people could suffer headaches and irritability if they gave up caffeine suddenly.

"There is also research into caffeine being helpful for alertness and performance in exercise. We need to be educated on the pros and cons and make our decision accordingly."


She'll de-caf if she has to

When Lesley Khan (picture) works out that she has probably spent at least $15,000 on coffee over the past 10 years, she's shocked.

"When you put it like that, it's awful. I'd never worked it out."

She works four days a week in inner-city Auckland. Starbucks is next to her workplace and Khan estimates she has six lattes a week while she's at work.

At $5 a time, that adds up to at least $30 a week on just the coffees she has on work days, which tallies up to $1560 a year. So far, her efforts to kick the caffeine habit have been unsuccessful.

"My New Year's resolution was to just have one a week. But then I went back to work on the Tuesday and by Wednesday I'd had four."

She wants to give up because of the cost but says it's a hard habit to break.

"But if Starbucks were to close, I wouldn't go up the road to find one. I would drink instant coffee."

- Herald on Sunday

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