Exploring Coffee Consumption Using Mobile Ethnography


Senior Qualitative Analyst - Ethnography

A large, wholesale grocery business enlisted MDRG to explore the purchasing journey of coffee consumers. Within that journey, they wanted to know how branding impacts their decision process, and, ultimately, how purchase decisions are made.


•   Explore current habits and preferences around coffee purchases

•   Understand how brand loyalty develops and manifests in purchasing habits

•   Identify and explore gaps in the current coffee brand experience


MDRG conducted a mobile ethnography study. This included 23 telephone in-depth interviews before and 23 telephone in-depth interviews after the mobile ethnography component. Half the respondents were from the New Orleans market, and the other half were from the other key markets in the South.

Initial interviews were conducted to draw out the initial findings and engage participants. The mobile ethnography then built upon those findings by allowing participants to share their coffee buying and drinking experiences in-the-moment. Through a mobile app, these respondents delivered videos, photos, and texts that provided intimate glimpses into their attitudes and behaviors. After the two-week mobile ethnography period, we conducted another set of interviews to follow-up on the behaviors and habits we had observed.


Our research indicated that coffee purchases are regular rituals that are difficult for brands to disrupt – and yet there were opportunities in the market for our client to cultivate brand loyalty.

•   We determined that our client could attract more customers by emphasizing the connection between being a local brand and delivering a higher quality product

Our research showed that preferences for local brands are tied to assumptions of quality and ethics.

•   Our research touched on the significant role of authenticity to locals, who could be quick to judge (and avoid) a brand they felt was too deliberate in showcasing markers of identity.

•   We suggested that our client would likely benefit from establishing a presence beyond the grocery store.

We discovered that consumers tend to be most loyal to brands they had been exposed to in social settings – work, school, etc.

•   Lastly, we also recommended that our client could better capitalize on shelf space by crafting a cohesive visual identity.

Though our client’s coffee packaging was appealing to consumers, they were more visually drawn to a primary competitor.

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