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Caribou Coffee Brews Its Way to the Top in Zocalo Group's Latest Recommendation Index(SM)


While Starbucks is Most Talked-about Brand, People are More Likely to Make Recommendation When Talking About Caribou Coffee

CHICAGO, Feb. 16, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Buying coffee to drink on the go is an American tradition and a $20 billion-per-year industry[i]. With more than 75 percent of U.S. adults consuming coffee[ii] and more than a million conversations about the category occurring online over a period of 30 days, Zocalo Group's most recent Recommendation Index uncovered the country's most recommended coffeehouse chains – and how they got that way.

Not surprisingly, Starbucks is the most talked-about coffeehouse chain online. But despite being the leader in online conversation volume, the brand is only recommended in about 1 in 200 conversations – while Caribou Coffee earns a recommendation once in every 20 conversations. Dunkin' Donuts and McDonald's follow Caribou in the Recommendation Index rankings of the top 10 largest coffeehouse chains operating in the U.S.

"Recommendations drive not only brand perception, but more importantly, purchasing decisions," said Paul M. Rand, president and CEO of Zocalo Group. "By making the important distinction between a cursory mention and a positive recommendation, we were able to glean more revealing insights about the role that recommendations played within the coffeehouse chain industry."

The Recommendation Index found that top themes associated with positive coffeehouse chain recommendations include product quality and freshness, brand loyalty and brew consistency. Primary drivers of negative word of mouth point to poor product quality, unskilled baristas and brand detractors – all of which further illustrate the value consumers place in great taste and service when choosing where to buy their coffee.

"The Recommendation Index illustrates that while a brand's volume of conversation is important, a high volume doesn't necessarily increase the likelihood that someone will make a recommendation," commented Zach Mesenbourg, manager of Zocalo Group's Insights & Analytics Team. "And that scenario is exactly what we saw with Caribou Coffee and Starbucks. While people talked more about Starbucks overall, those who talked about Caribou Coffee were stronger advocates and recommenders."

Recommendation Index Results

Unlike standard metrics that ask, "Would you recommend this brand?" the Recommendation Index determines why, where and how often people recommend individual brands. The Index highlights not only the overall conversation volume, but also the level of positive recommendations.

The top 10 coffeehouse chains (of those operating in the United States) ranked by conversation volume during a recent 30-day period include:

Conversation Volume (# of mentions)


Starbucks – 1,018,524

Tim Horton's – 73,977

McDonald's – 18,079

Dunkin' Donuts – 15,256

Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf – 14,176

Caribou Coffee – 8,711

Peet's Coffee & Tea – 6,798

Tully's – 3,646

Seattle's Best – 3,344

Coffee Beanery – 1,033

The Recommendation Index also evaluates the percentage of this conversation that is actually a positive recommendation. The top 10 coffeehouse chains (of those operating in the United States) ranked by level of positive recommendation include:

Percentage of Conversation with a Positive Recommendation


Caribou Coffee – 4.6%

Dunkin' Donuts – 3.7%

McDonald's – 2.4%

Coffee Beanery – 2.1%

Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf – 1.9%

Tim Horton's – 1.7%

Seattle's Best – 1.4%

Peet's Coffee & Tea – 1.4%

Tully's – 1.1%

Starbucks – 0.5%

In addition, the Recommendation Index provides insight into the positive and negative keywords and/or phrases used to trigger recommendations as well as the drivers of word of mouth. Top drivers of positive recommendations in the coffeehouse chain conversation include:

  • Product Quality & Freshness – good taste, always fresh, and delicious flavor
  • Brand Loyalty – an unconditional affinity for a particular brand
  • Brew Consistency – getting the same good cup of coffee time after time
  • Skilled Baristas – friendly staff that create delicious specialty drinks
  • Physical Location – the best place to hang out, relax, and meet with friends

Top drivers of negative recommendations include:

  • Poor Product Quality – bad taste, poor flavor, and old or burnt coffee
  • Unskilled Baristas – staff that often "messes up" drinks
  • Brand Detractors – overall dislike, contempt, or hatred for a particular brand
  • Exaggerated Comparisons – tastes like dirt, tanning oil, and other substances
  • Physical Side Effects – complaints of discomfort associated with the coffee


The Recommendation Index was created by Zocalo Group to understand not only which are the most talked-about brands across social channels, but also to better understand each brand's percentage of positive recommendations.

For the current Recommendation Index, the study identified the 10 largest national and regional coffeehouse  chains (based on sales figures and number of locations in the United States) and then examined online conversations occurring across blogs, forums, Twitter and other discussion venues over a 30-day time period. Online analysis focused on the naturally occurring, organic conversations about those brands and the words consumers used to make explicit recommendations. Key triggers and themes pertaining to both positive and negative recommendations were also examined. To learn more about the Recommendation Index, please visit

About Zocalo Group

Zocalo Group is a full-service word-of-mouth and social media marketing agency, helping leading consumer and business-to-business brands become the most talked-about and recommended brands in their category. Based in Chicago, Zocalo Group has received numerous industry awards for its brand programs and measurement initiatives. Zocalo Group is a unit of Omnicom Group Inc. (NYSE: OMC) and Ketchum. For more information, please visit

[i] The Coffee Marvel Blog, How Big is the Coffee Industry?  (May 17, 2010).

[ii] National Coffee Association, 2011 National Coffee Drinking Trends, (June 28, 2011).

SOURCE Zocalo Group

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