Wawa brews up brand equity with Sara Lee
Wawa Inc. (Wawa, PA) has worked tirelessly to make its proprietary food brands a household name in the Northeast, but it couldn’t have done so without the help of suppliers like Sara Lee Coffee & Tea. The chain gave Sara Lee a trial run with the development of its cappuccino program. Then, once Sara Lee purchased the roasting facility that supplied Wawa with its coffee, the chain saw vast quality improvements.
“Sara Lee were innovators of cappuccino programs. The quality of their product really sold us,” says Gus D. Durso, director of category management for Wawa. “Two key things Sara Lee has brought us is their assurance of the proper product quality and their product innovation, which helps us expand the variety of our hot beverage category. Sara Lee made a number of improvements to the plant, in the manufacturing of the product and its delivery.”
Sara Lee saw the advances to the plant as a necessity in order to satisfy a chain that takes its brand very seriously.
“The adaptations made to the plant were made to serve Wawa better,” says Jerry Morrow, vice president of convenience stores for Sara Lee Coffee & Tea (Bensenville, IL). “Wawa has high standards for its coffee and what that product should do for them, so we wanted to be sure to meet those expectations.”
Prior to the partnership, Wawa had already begun re-crafting its brand. Now the two companies work together to enhance Wawa’s product offering by keeping it on trend with the latest hot beverage innovations. Wawa’s hot beverage program is its most profitable product mix category, and the chain attributes a part of that success to Sara Lee Coffee & Tea.
“Sara Lee teamed with us to put together a strategic direction for the hot beverage category,” says Durso. “We reviewed opportunities, products and programsand implemented a category plan which has fueled its growth for over 10 years now.”
The Superior Steamers line is Sara Lee’s latest product introduction. The caffeine-free steamed milk blended with various flavors provides retailers with a rich and creamy coffee alternative that customers are gulping up. As it is with most new products, Wawa likes being first to market and relies on its supplier partners to keep it on track. It was one of the first convenience store chains to jump on board, but not without putting its own spin on the product.
“We introduced Steamers two years ago, but we wanted to introduce it as a different concept than what was rolled out to us,” says Durso. “Originally, it was a nondairy type product that customers added flavor to, but we asked Sara Lee to produce a flavored steamer so we could cut down on SKUs. They worked with us to develop a product that met our operations and consumer needs at the same time. Sara Lee really offers flexibility and innovation for new programs.”
Wawa remains quite nimble with new product introductions—being the first to market with both the cappuccino and Steamers programs. It’s also collaborated with Sara Lee to further enhance its brand by ensuring its delivering the freshest coffee possible.
While Sara Lee offers a wide range of in-house support—logo development, store design, marketing and signage— Wawa handles the bulk of these responsibilities itself. However, the chain allowed Sara Lee to take the helm on its preventative maintenance campaign, where Sara Lee partners with a third-party contractor to perform equipment maintenance and repair twice a year.
“It all depends on what a retailer’s particular needs are,” says Morrow. “We have the most flexibility [of other hot beverage suppliers] and the best track record to help retailers sell more cups per store. We also help them make a better margin on the product, which is what everyone is after. Once we have a program that has taken some firm increases—programs that have displayed solid enhancements in delivery, quality and message—we believe that the retailer has an obligation to get more for that product because they have invested to deliver a more enhanced experience to customers.”
While Wawa’s proprietary hot beverage program is established and credible, those looking to develop their offer could find a valuable partnership with Sara Lee.
“If you’re looking to enhance hot beverage, Sara Lee has the resources available to help you build a top-notch program,” says Durso. “From its quality products to industry research to a full in-house marketing program, Sara Lee can help retailers develop the right product mix and get it moving.”
For more information on Sara Lee Coffee & Tea call 800-373-6705 or visit www.saraleecoffee.com.