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To say the coffee industry is massive would be a gross understatement. In fact, individuals all over the world consume over 2.25 billion cups of the drink every day.
All by itself, the coffee market makes up 1.6% of the United State’s GDP, and is the second most traded commodity in the world after oil.
Whether you’re an investor, market analyst, or enthusiast looking to open your own coffee business, it’s imperative to study the existing coffee giants to learn what they’re doing right and how the industry is trending forward.
However, a market so large is extremely complex, with supply chains composed of different types of businesses that all work together to get coffee to end consumers.
In this article, we’ll focus on just one piece of that puzzle – coffee chains.
This is because they’re the most visible, and play the greatest influence in shaping consumer taste and demand.
The ten largest coffee companies in the world in 2020 were:
The 10 Largest Largest Coffee Companies in the World: A Closer Look
Gross annual sales: $22.38 billion
Starbucks is by far the most popular coffee chain in the world, with over 30,000 stores around the globe.
One of the largest reasons for their success is tied to how they transformed coffee culture in major countries such as the United States.
Prior to Starbucks’ founding in 1971, coffee shops weren’t very common in most countries outside of Europe and Australia.
The vast majority of Americans were only familiar with coffee through the bulk packaged drip coffee that they made at home in the morning or drank at work.
Another cornerstone of the coffee giant’s success has been the constant creation and mass-marketing of different novelty coffee drinks, often using heavy amounts of sugar and cream to appeal to a broader audience.
Starbucks drinks often contain even more sugar than most sodas.
Even as other major chains have popped up in the coffee market, Starbucks remains the largest player by a wide margin in terms of both revenue and stores opened.
Tim Hortons. Headquarters: Oakville, Canada
Gross annual sales: $3 billion
The first Tim Hortons was founded in 1964 by an individual with the same name, and has since expanded into 4,846 stores across 14 countries.
Their initial reasons for growth as well as their continued success are largely the same:
Food. While most people perceive Starbucks as a coffee chain that happens to sell snacks and pastries, Tim Hortons markets itself as the exact opposite.
Many Tim Horton fans actually visit the store to buy their donuts and pastries and just happen to order a coffee along with them.
Cost and perception. The majority of consumers perceive Dunkin Donuts as a cheap place to get coffee and Starbucks as more of a luxury brand.
Tim Hortons prices their items and markets themselves to fulfill a niche in the center.
Customers go to Tim Hortons when they want a quality coffee that’s more affordable than Starbucks.
Marketing to Canadians. Tim Horton’s market themselves to tie closely with Canadian identity and pride.
Many of their commercials and other marketing materials sport maple leaves and slogans celebrating Canadian culture and history.
Even the company’s red and white color scene is a reference to the nation’s flag.
This strategy seems to work, as Tim Horton’s beats Starbucks’ presence in Canada in terms of both revenue and stores opened.
Gross annual sales: $2.8 billion
Panera Bread shares a similar strategy with Tim Hortons in that it focuses on food items instead of coffee.
Although coffee sales comprise a large percentage of the chain’s revenue, most of their marketing material shows off items such as bread, soup, and pastries.
The company also adopts Starbucks’ method of providing a welcoming atmosphere that invites customers to gather and socialize in order to boost sales.
Most stores are designed with warm, brown interiors and pleasant lighting to create such an effect.
Panera Bread is currently exclusive to the United States and Canada, with 2,158 locations open across the two countries.
Lavazza. Headquarters: Turin, Italy
Gross annual sales: $2.67 billion
Lavazza may be a surprising inclusion at the top of this list for those living in the United States.
The chain only has a handful of stores outside of Italy, with most of its revenue coming from packaged products sold at grocery stores.
Lavazza strategically places their lofty coffee bars at high-end hotels to create a perception of being a luxury brand.
By focusing on image and creating coffee blends with extremely rich and unique flavors, the chain occupies a niche in consumer minds of being the brand to go for when they really desire a good, expensive cup of coffee.
McCafe. Headquarters: Oak Brook, Illinois
Gross annual sales: $2.42 billion
McCafe was created in 1993 and exists under the larger Mcdonald’s brand.
The chain has since expanded to 1,300 stores worldwide.
McCafe’s strategy for success differs greatly from almost every other coffee chain on this list. Their main competitor is arguably not Starbucks, but Dunkin’ Donuts.
The two chains both exist in the same niche of selling affordable, no-frills coffee to consumers who just want a bit of caffeine before work.
However, McCafe doesn’t need to focus on reducing the customer experience and cost-cutting nearly as much as Dunkin’ Donuts.
McCafe has started to target Starbucks’ customer base more and more in recent years by offering new novelty, decorated coffee drinks.
Costa. Headquarters: Dunstable, United Kingdom
Gross annual sales: $1.84 billion
In many ways, Costa Coffee’s reputation as the Starbucks of Europe and the Middle East makes total sense.
Both companies were founded in the same year, 1971.
Both companies also share the same business model of focusing on maximizing customer experience.
Costa Costa stores all come with dark, moody interiors and comfortable areas to sit around and socialize with friends.
Strangely, even their logos are almost identical. Really, we invite you to look them up right now.
Costa Coffee has also replicated Starbucks’ success, with 3,401 stores open across the world.
Gross annual sales: $1.37 billion
Dunkin’ Donuts was founded in 1950 and has since grown into over 11,300 stores across the world.
The chain uses its speed, consistency, and low pricing as its competitive edge and leans into it strongly.
Starbucks cafes focus on creating lofty and welcoming atmospheres and serving fairly expensive, decorated drinks. Dunkin’ takes the exact opposite approach.
Most Dunkin’ stores are small and only have a few seats and tables, if any at all. Their coffee is served in small styrofoam cups with rarely any extras other than some sugar and cream.
By reducing overhead and other costs, Dunkin’ Donuts is able to provide coffee at an extremely low price to people who just want a bit of affordable caffeine during the day.
Judging by the chain’s sheer presence of stores and their revenue, this strategy seems to be working well.
Gross annual sales: $983 million
While Starbucks focuses on capturing as large an audience of coffee consumers as possible, Peet’s Coffee instead focuses on the niche of providing specialty, artisan coffee to coffee hobbyists and connoisseurs.
The brand started as a single stand operating outside of a truck, and has since blossomed into 200 stores across the United States (plus one in China).
The stores are welcoming and moody, similar to Starbucks cafes, but tend to be small and only seat a few people.
Their products also tend towards the pricier side, averaging even higher than most Starbucks drinks.
Although Peet’s Coffee only has a few stores open, their unique, luxury coffee blends are sold in over 14,000 stores across the United States.
Gross annual sales: $494 million
Although Dutch Bros has 379 stores across the western United States, much of their revenue is generated exclusively in the State of Oregon.
This is largely due to the company targeting many aspects of their marketing to Oregon’s urban and suburban cultures.
In large population centers such as Portland, many consumers deliberately look for companies that share values such as:
Supporting local businesses
Most customers perceive Dutch Bros as successfully hitting upon all of these points, contributing to their success.
Gross annual sales: $480 million
Caribou Coffee operates 273 locations in the United States and franchises an additional 203 stores across the world.
The brand specializes in offering lightly roasted coffees and fruity flavors that are usually only found in chai-tea.
A large part of their success can also be attributed to baristas that are trained to know extensive coffee-related knowledge that lets them converse with customers and build a welcoming environment.