If you haven’t figured it out by now, most customers aren’t going to be happy with a one-pot coffee program bookended by a cup of sugar and a bowl of curdled creamer.
They could get that at home. When they buy coffee at c-stores or other retail channels, they want more, a lot more. More coffee, more condiments, more freshness, more choices and, quite obviously, more satisfaction from their daily brew.
“Today’s consumer is definitely more educated than in the past, especially about different types of coffee blends and countries of origin,” said Rick Pajak, category manager at New York convenience chain Wilson Farms. “Fair trade or rain forest select, they’re looking for a higher grade than the home-brewed Maxwell House blends of the past.”
Retailers like Wilson Farms, Rutter’s, Sheetz, Quick Chek and many other leading chains learned early on that customers want to feel in control of their coffee destiny. These chains are ahead of the curve, and other chains—even other retail channels—have noticed. McDonald’s, Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts have all increased their morning offering not only to drive sales, but to try to steer customers away from convenience stores. The fact remains that as c-stores continue to deliver quality, value and speed of service, the industry will have the upper hand, but it’s just one bad brew from losing market share to the fast-food industry.
Foremost, convenience store customers want freshness. Atlas Oil’s, WoW! c-store brand, turned fresh coffee into a mantra when it first launched five years ago. Every 20 minutes, clerks were required to empty the coffee pots and refill them with fresh brew. The freshness guarantee is a staple at chains like Quick Chek and Rutter’s.
“It was expensive at the beginning, but as people got used to it we didn’t have to throw away as much,” said Atlas CEO Sam Simon. “Freshness is key.”
Beyond that, retailers know that multiple blends and higher-quality coffees will lure diverse customers, as well as gain their loyalty. Fair trade, premium, high-caffeine and other brews are essential to a well-rounded coffee program that appeals to young consumers—the fastest-growing segment of coffee purchasers—as well as middle-aged and older drinkers.
Wilson Farms’ Pajak has devoted ample space and solutions to coffee condiments, offering free mini marshmallows, whipped toppings, cinnamon, nutmeg, honey, sprinkles and much, much more with each coffee purchase. “We look at the condiment section as one of the longest stops in the store,” Pajak said. “Why not give them the right space and right opportunity to create their own cup of coffee.”
With competing channels making new strides almost daily into convenience retailing’s coveted coffee category, convenience store operators are more pressured than ever to create profitable java programs that will draw customers and encourage add-on sales.
Of 77 key decision makers who evaluated the Dispensed Hot Beverages segment of the 2009 CSD Brand Preference Study, 69% said they had been contacted by one or two coffee suppliers in the last 60 days. In fact, 90% of the respondents said they had been contacted by just two or fewer companies in that period.
Top performers were identified as S&D Coffee, Folgers (J.M. Smucker Co.) and Boyd Coffee Co. Honorable mentions went to Sara Lee Foodservice and Ronnoco Coffee Co.