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NEW YORK -- More and more businesses looking for added value for their customers are turning to java, and not just your standard cup.
According to an Associated Press report, latte lovers are now getting their fix in Laundromats, movie theaters, baseball stadiums and fitness centers. And businesses that have long served coffee -- gas stations, for instance -- are finding they no longer can get away with any old drip.
"If your taste has been educated to really want an espresso or a mocha, a regular cup of joe from the institutional pot that has been sitting there all day just isn't good enough anymore," said Beau Weston, a sociology professor at Centre College in Danville, Ky.
Weston credits Starbucks for getting Americans used to higherquality coffee. According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, a trade group, gourmet coffee is now more than a $9 billion industry in the United States, up from $7.5 billion in 1999.
No wonder, then, that fancy coffee is showing up in unexpected places.
Take the Wild Bean Café at BP Connect stores across the country. Customers can get pastries baked on site and gourmet coffee from urns refilled with fresh brews throughout the day. "When was the last time you were in a gas station and were able to enjoy a Kenya AA?" BP spokesman Scott Dean said. "We're finding that customers really do want a good-quality cup of coffee."
Rick Abramson, president of Sportservice Inc., a leading provider of concessions at sports stadiums and arenas, remembers the way coffee came at ballparks in his youth: a cup of hot water and a packet of instant granules.
Now about 90 percent of Sportservice's clients have some sort of high-end coffee offering, from Starbucks or local gourmet brews at concession stands to espresso drinks in the stadium clubs. Younger fans like his children, ages 16 and 20, demand fancy hot drinks in the fall and frozen ones in the summer.
A good cup of coffee can bring customers into a business and keep them around at least for as long as it takes to drink it, said Richard Wyckoff, who oversees refreshment services for Aramark Corp., a top foodservice provider.
A booming part of Aramark's business comes at car dealerships, which are requesting Starbucks self-service machines that can grind and brew a fresh cup of coffee for potential car buyers in less than a minute.
The idea is to keep customers happy, not to mention browsing. "If you look at trends in the coffee business and the growth of gourmet coffee, primarily due to the Starbucks chain, the consumer is much more aware and appreciates much more the value of a good cup of coffee," Wyckoff said.
The National Coffee Association's 2004 National Coffee Drinking Trends report found that of consumers who said they had bought coffee in the past week, 11 percent said they bought it at a convenience store, 18 percent at work and 7 percent at a mass merchandiser. The purchase information makes a new addition to the annual report.
Consumers who start drinking espresso at the ballpark may eventually upgrade to a regular Starbucks fix, said Sharon Zackfia, an industry analyst with William Blair & Co. "The emergence of a more refined coffee culture probably helps Starbucks in the longer term," Zackfia said. "They still have the premium brand."