Up until a few days ago, I was under the impression that a large percentage of young adults and college students obsess over coffee. However, according to an article on MediaPost, coffee sales are dwindling among younger consumers, and marketers are encouraged to work harder if they want to sway younger coffee drinkers (aged 18-24).

How could that statement be true? I mean, I can’t recall a time during my college career when I saw a fellow student without a travel mug full of the stuff! And if coffee sales within that age group are down, then why are Starbucks lines always packed with panicked college-agers who want to score a cup of dark roast minutes before their first class?

I don’t have a definitive answer to that question, but I do have a few insights. From what I’ve seen, eighteen to twenty-four year-olds aren’t necessarily guzzling coffee because they like the taste. Many of them consume it because of the energy boost it inevitably brings. In the case of students, it’s all part of the sacrifice to stay awake during class after a late-night cram session. So, if young people aren’t drinking coffee to stay energized, then what are they drinking? I suspect super-sweet energy drinks or caffeine-loaded sodas.

How’s this for energy drink variety?

Have you been to a gas station lately? There’s a positively enormous selection of energy drinks inside the coolers. The containers are vying for attention. Each can is zanier than the next. The flavors are so diverse and tantalizing that coffee doesn’t even stand a chance against them! This gives younger consumers more of a choice, so those who are disgusted by the taste of coffee no longer have to chug it to feel an energy surge.

If young coffee drinkers want ’em sweeter, then make ’em sweeter!

MediaPost’s article also mentions that young adults tend to favor sweet coffee drinks over run-of-the-mill coffee, and that only “28% of young adults like the taste of coffee on its own,” which is nearly half the percentage of older age groups’ preferences. It’s already apparent that sweet energy drinks are in demand and that it’s all about CHOICES, so why not give them what they want and add more sweetened beverages to the menu?

If I were a coffee marketer and I wanted to get young people interested in coffee again, I’d make it worth their while. Try concocting new coffee drink flavors and giving away free samples on college campuses in exchange for a quick written review. Offer $5 gift cards or special coupons for taking a short survey about coffee taste preferences. Give away inexpensive travel mugs with purchases over a certain dollar amount. Or, better yet, organize a contest among the 18-24 age group to come up with a new coffee drink that every energy-drink addict in the country would scramble to try…and then let the winner star in their own commercial! If I know anything about college-age people or college students, it’s that they’d do just about anything to save a few bucks and they rarely turn down anything if it’s free. If they can get their 15 minutes of fame while they’re at it, then even better!

I understand coffee marketers’ concerns; after all, disinterested twenty-somethings will eventually turn into disinterested forty-somethings, and that could prove catastrophic for coffee sales down the road. But instead of sitting around idly while coffee sales plummet, marketers need to take action RIGHT NOW. Follow the lead of industry competitors like Mountain Dew or Red Bull and go straight to the source when you need help marketing to a Generation Y crowd!

About the author

Kyrsten Ledger

Kyrsten is a promo expert with a passion for branding . Her vast knowledge of promotional giveaways and marketing has led to several articles and published work for PPB Magazine, a publication from the Promotional Products Association International.