NATIONAL REPORT -- Convenience store operators using glass coffee pots should seriously consider shifting to airpots and/or thermal urns as they take their coffee program up a notch because these systems best preserve flavor, aroma and temperature, according to members of the Convenience Store News How To Crew, a panel of leading foodservice experts.
“Studies I have conducted show that consumers are more concerned with getting hot and fresh coffee than the vessels the coffee is dispensed from, but some feedback I have received states that consumers view glass pots as being somewhat outdated,” said How To Crew member Paul Pierce, a former foodservice executive at convenience store chains 7-Eleven Inc. and MAPCO Express.
Glass pots typically yield more spoilage because coffee should only be held in them for 20 minutes before quality begins to degrade, vs. one-hour hold times for airpots.
One How To Crew retailer also noted that thermal urns “are much more upscale in presentation” and can hold two to three times the liquid volume of glass pots, depending on the urn size purchased. “The newer, recently engineered soft-heat systems also present the program very well and maintain quality for many hours,” the retailer added.
Coffee purveyors that have deployed soft-heat brewer and thermal server equipment have had consistently positive customer feedback on the quality of the coffee, the look of the equipment and the convenient access customers have to the coffee offering, according to How To Crew member Maurice Minno, principal of foodservice consultancy MPM Group.
“On a quality basis, one detailed study I am aware of conducted by a major U.S. coffee retailer confirmed that several of the critical customer sensory elements of coffees brewed and held in a soft-heat thermal server for two hours matches those of fresh-brewed coffee,” Minno said.
Before making a decision about the type of coffee equipment and merchandisers to use, however, some How To Crew experts suggest retailers consult with coffee equipment sales representatives about the scope of their program, expansion plans, customer base, etc., to evaluate the best approach.
It might be that airpots work best in some stores and thermal urns in others. Most importantly, retailers should select the equipment and merchandisers that best preserve flavor and heat because customers hate burned or lukewarm coffee.
A solid c-store coffee program should include regular, decaf and dark roasts, and expand from there. Some add-on options could include flavored coffee (hazelnut and vanilla are the most popular), as well as organic coffee or Fair Trade coffee depending on the customer base.
“Consumer research shows that you can get very high levels of consumer preference coverage (upward of 80 percent) by simply offering four different varieties of coffee,” said Mathew Mandeltort, another member of the How To Crew and corporate foodservice manager at Eby-Brown Co. LLC. “After that, the gains are incremental in nature.”
Mandeltort also noted that operators often confuse variety with the number of options and flavors offered. Instead, operators should focus on a well-designed condiment bar and offer customers ample ways to customize their coffee with a wide variety of creams, milks, sweeteners, syrups, toppings, etc.
Although CSNews' How To Crew members are divided on the optimal coffee and condiment bar layout -- linear vs. an island layout approach -- all agree customer flow is the most important consideration so that multiple customers can serve themselves and customize their coffee simultaneously.
Most of the experts recommend two distinct areas in the coffee section: a place to pour the coffee and a place to customize the coffee with condiments. Minno noted that coffee cups and lids should be stocked at both locations for easy customer access.
The bottom line is that c-store operators must be sure to build a detailed strategic business plan for their coffee program expansion, commit the resources from the outset to execute the plan and focus on the many operations details –– training, customer service, customer flow, merchandising, equipment and inventory management –– that can make or break a program.
Editor's note: Check out the July issue of Convenience Store News for our full report on how to take your coffee program to the next level, including special tips for beginner, intermediate and advanced operators. A digital edition of the issue can be accessed by clicking here.