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    The Hot Buttons of Hot Beverages

    A rundown of the best practices in the convenience channel.

    By Renee M. Covino, Convenience Store News

    NATIONAL REPORT — Industry experts agree that the best practices of leading coffee/hot beverage programs in the convenience channel traditionally include:

    High-Quality Coffee — One that is on par with Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, but for a less expensive price and with faster service. Fair trade and ethical practices should also be incorporated. Convenience store operators need to recognize how important a quality coffee program is to the perception and profit of their overall foodservice operation.

    High-Quality Containers — High-quality coffee without the right vessel can ruin the perception. C-stores that want to step it up should offer top-notch cups, lids, sleeves and plastic tops. Branding these is also strongly recommended.

    Comprehensive Customization — This includes not only offering a light to dark blend variety (no more than four), but also ample choices of condiments and toppings, including creamers, sweeteners, syrups and flavor shots. Loyal coffee customers want to feel like their coffee is one-of-a-kind, and this is the easiest way for c-stores to offer them more variety without the higher costs typically associated with customization.

    Clean Layout — This translates to a well-organized, neat and clean coffee station; one that is maintained and in-stock and has a logical layout. If customers are crisscrossing each other and having a difficult time customizing their beverages, they are less likely to become morning regulars.

    Coffee-Plus Program — Meaning the store has muffins, doughnuts, bakery items, breakfast sandwiches, etc., off to the side but adjacent enough to the coffee station to generate impulse food sales. This is where c-stores can truly make their money, according to the experts.

    Honorable Mention Extras — Other best practices undertaken by c-stores with successful hot beverage programs include: loyalty cards/programs, limited/seasonal editions, providing a community morning meeting place, and selling their coffee beans/blends for take-home brewing.

    The Burner Blunder — What’s the biggest mistake a c-store can make in a hot beverage program? "All c-stores serious about coffee must use airpots," according to Tim Powell, senior analyst at Q1 Consulting in Chicago. "Get rid of the glass on a hot burner."

    By Renee M. Covino, Convenience Store News
    • About Renee M. Covino Contributing Editor Renée M. Covino is a veteran researcher, editor and writer with more than 30 years of experience in the mass retail sector. Her articles and columns have appeared online and in print for dozens of industry trade magazines, newsletters, metro newspapers, Fortune 500 company reports and college textbooks. Covino is a self-named “store connoisseur” who not only writes about retail, but happily supports it.

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