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The science behind Keurig crafting Spotify playlists to create a 'unique sensory experience' for coffee drinkers

Brooke DiPalma
·Associate Producer
·4-min read

Keurig (KDP), with a little help from Spotify (SPOT), is hoping to provide customers with a perfect paring for their morning coffee that is actually rooted in science.

Following the recent launch of its specialty K-Supreme Plus brewer, which has multiStream technology that saturates the grounds evenly to extract full flavor and aroma, Keurig launched five curated playlists on Spotify, which contain between five and eight songs.

Each is unique to a different type of K-Cup pod, and is meant to create a "unique sensory journey." For example, the "Original Donut Shop Regular" pod is paired with a playlist for "for uplifting listening," while a "Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Nantucket Blend" is paired with a playlist for "demanding & curious listeners."

University of Oxford professor Charles Spence, along with sound designer Felipe Reinoso Carvalho, helped the beverage giant to create these playlists. Both are experts in the area of finding "multiple ways in which what we hear affects what we taste" — commonly known as sonic seasoning.

"Sound is the forgotten flavor sense. What we hear when preparing a cup of coffee, the sound of the brewer can set expectations concerning the taste of the drink that we are about to enjoy," Spence explained to Yahoo Finance in a recent interview.

He added the sound of the coffee brewing can even change the perception of how the coffee tastes.

"The sounds of coffee brewing are an important part of the total coffee experience. Simply by accentuating the harsher notes of a coffee brewing sound, that may set expectations of a more bitter tasting coffee," Spence said. Adding music to the preparation and tasting of coffee can "undoubtedly affect our mood."

Music can "affect how much we like the taste of the coffee we happen to be drinking," a phenomenon Spence called "sensation transference." A person's feeling about music can influence the coffee drinking experience — and may even impact how music sounds when drinking java.

'Thousands of consumers'

Keurig’s K-Supreme® Brewer (COURTESY: Keurig’s)
Keurig’s K-Supreme® Brewer (COURTESY: Keurig’s)

In order to best curate the playlists, Spence said first they had to identify the key tastes and aroma notes in the coffee blends. This includes "the dark chocolate, sweet caramel, juicy plum, and bright acidity that consumers may experience" in the case of the Colombia Select Keurig coffee.

Then, the scientists paired "which instrument sounds, tempos, roughness, pitch, loudness, ambitious is best matched with the various tastes and dominant aroma notes in the coffee," he told Yahoo Finance.

Spence also says this sensation transference effect is not just unique to a certain type of consumer, but relevant to "thousands of consumers from various countries." He added: "If the music or noise gets too loud, that can interfere with our ability to taste and so negatively impact the coffee tasting experience."

According to Keurig's marketing director Lindsay Fermano, the beverage giant was determined to bring this multi-sensory experience to its customers "to elevate drinking your daily cup of coffee" after it learned about Spence's work.

This immersible experience comes as Keurig sees a boom in at-home coffee drinking during COVID-19 lockdowns, which has also helped the streaming giant boost users by double-digits. Last year, around 3 million new U.S. households began to use the Keurig coffee system, while regular usage jumped by approximately 10%, to 33 million households.

In that report, the company also noted K-cup pod growth was "driven by double-digit at-home consumption," but acknowledges that it is in part due to those lockdowns, noting this growth was "partially offset by a significant decline in the away-from-home business, as work-from-home trends were elevated for most of the year."

"Over the past year, coffee drinking habits have evolved drastically since the onset of working from home," Fermano told Yahoo Finance.

"Consumers have tried everything from Tik-tok coffee trends and experimenting with new flavors and milk alternatives, searching for an at-home barista coffee fix," she said. "Consumers are continuing to drink coffee now more than ever and looking for their cup of coffee to provide a break from their typical day to day."

Shares of Keurig Dr Pepper are up nearly 9% from a year ago, while shares of Spotify saw tremendous growth in the past year, up 136%.

Brooke DiPalma is a producer and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @BrookeDiPalma.

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