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The hectic and, at times, exhausting pace of modern life has consumers turning to more and more products aimed at giving them a quick energy boost. Energy drinks, energy gum, energy bars and energy chews are just a few that have captured a share of the growing business. Consumers are even adding energy-enhancing ingredients to their fountain beverages.
Now, coffee – the original pick-me-up – is being reenergized. A growing number of convenience stores have begun offering hyper-caffeinated brews, some containing more than double the caffeine of an average cup of coffee, for those customers seeking the extra something to help get them through their days.
"More than ever, people are looking for an extra boost because everyone is always on the go," said Mike Vlasich, director of operations for First Hand Management LLC of Denver, which operates 54 Shell Food Marts in Oregon and Colorado.
Two years ago, the chain added a hyper-caffeinated coffee – Boyd Coffee Co.'s Hi-Rev – and it has become a destination item, Vlasich said. The product has been so successful that the company has since brought in Boyd's Hi-Rev Cappuccino and Hi-Rev Freezers with similar high sales results.
Although slightly more expensive than traditional coffee offerings, Hi-Rev helps the company maintain good margins, Vlasich said. As an added benefit, the retailer doesn't have to invest in cappuccino or espresso machines that have high rental fees and are costly to maintain. "It's a way for us to compete with the Starbucks of the world," he noted.
Several other c-store chains – including Cumberland Farms Inc., based in Canton, Mass.; C.N. Brown Co., based in South Paris, Maine; Stop In Food Stores Inc., based in Roanoke, Va.; and Ranger Enterprises Inc., based in Rockford, Ill. – have added Shock Coffee drinks to their hot dispensed beverage programs. Shock is a hyper-caffeinated coffee that boasts more than 50 percent more caffeine than other coffees.
TravelCenters of America, too, has made a highly-caffeinated, dark-roast gourmet blend, called TA Extreme, the signature blend of its TA Cafe Express, a new "grab-and-go" foodservice and coffee concept that the chain is rolling out nationally. In addition, White Hen, recently acquired by Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc., this summer launched Charged!, a new coffee with 50 percent more caffeine than its original blend.
The hyper-caffeine trend seems to be exclusive to c-stores and quick-service restaurants, according to Joseph DeRupo, director of communications and public relations for the National Coffee Association of U.S.A. Inc. in New York City. At least, for now.
At the core of MAPCO Express' decision to include a hyper-caffeinated coffee dubbed Extreme Caffeine in its new MAPCO Mart store concept was the desire to offer consumers the widest possible variety of brews and tastes. The Franklin, Tenn.-based retailer introduced the new store concept in late 2005 and plans to make the upscale, foodservice-oriented format the centerpiece of the most aggressive expansion plan in MAPCO's history (see Convenience Store News cover story, Aug. 7, 2006).
"We are known for our great coffee, and we are always trying to attract new coffee customers," said Jerry Weiner, director of foodservice for the chain's 392 stores. "Energy drinks are extremely popular right now, and we thought people would like a hot beverage with an extra boost. Coffee is an important ingredient in our product mix and a signature item for many of our MAPCO Mart customers. We want to offer more than just regular and decaf in order to keep growing the coffee segment."
MAPCO, a subsidiary of Delek U.S. Holdings Inc., considers Extreme Caffeine to be an ancillary product, so the decision whether to carry it is left up to the individual store managers who know their customers and which products they like and buy, Weiner explained. He said this is why the chain's customized approach to stocking stores is so successful. Extreme Caffeine is the best-selling of all its ancillary items.
"It's performing great. It's doing even better than we anticipated. We are finding more stores with the Extreme product than with the Columbian coffee, and we thought the demand would be higher for the Columbian coffee," said Weiner, who added the retailer is considering offering more high-energy hot beverages.
MAPCO plans to extend Extreme Caffeine to additional locations as existing stores are remodeled as MAPCO Marts. By the end of 2006, the company expected to have 14 newly-built MAPCO Marts in operation and 10 retrofits. Nine new MAPCO Marts and 10 retrofits are planned for this year.
"We find that adding new products attracts new customers – and keeps existing customers coming back," said Weiner.
Staying on top of the latest products is crucial, agrees Warner Hall, president of Workman Oil, the Forest, Va.-based operator of 33 Apple Markets. He learned that the hard way by turning down Red Bull the first time it was presented to him. "We were approached – and we laughed at them. We've been kicking ourselves ever since," he said.
Not wanting to make the same mistake twice, Hall said the company opted to be on the leading edge of the hyper-caffeinated coffee trend. All 33 of the company's stores began offering Shock Coffee about a year ago.
"So far, it's been good. Because it is a new product, we've had to put some effort in," Hall noted. "We've found that if the store personnel and managers suggest sampling, they really build up a good customer base. If they don't, there's not as much trial.
For TravelCenters of America, adding a beverage like its TA Extreme was a no-brainer, since sales have demonstrated that the chain's customers like highly-caffeinated drinks. Its number-one selling carbonated soft drink is Mountain Dew, and sales of energy drinks have been phenomenal, said Lloyd Sanford, director of merchandising.
"We felt there was clearly a demand and interest in such a product," he said, reporting that so far coffee sales are up and the feedback is very positive.
TA Extreme began rolling out in the fourth quarter of last year as part of the larger TA Cafe Express concept. There are two different levels of Cafe Express. Level one, in more than 30 stores, features upgraded coffee, fountain and grab-and-go foodservice programs. Level two, which was to be in 70 stores by 2006's end, focuses solely on the coffee element, according to Sanford. The intent is to roll out either level of Cafe Express to all remaining stores this year. TravelCenters has 162 locations in 49 states and Canada.
Not For Everyone
Retailers recognize hyper-caffeinated brews are not for every customer, but say there's certainly a portion of the market they fit. At TravelCenters of America, it's the professional truck driver. TA Extreme is fittingly promoted as "the 500-mile coffee."
MAPCO's Weiner said the primary consumers of its Extreme Caffeine are truck drivers, as well as college-aged customers, though he said professional men and women are also buying it.
"Consumers want extra in their coffee for times when they feel it's too early to have an energy drink, or maybe it's too cold out," Vlasich explained.
It's difficult to say whether hyper-brews will have staying power, but DeRupo said they are part of a larger consumer trend that's very likely to stick around – the search for variety.
"We're seeing all sorts of innovation with coffee - coffee blended with ice and lots of espresso-based creations, etc.," he noted. "This is yet another example of the broadening menu of options. The more options there are, the more consumers want."