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LAS VEGAS –- Foodservice is a major focus for today's convenience store operators, but that doesn't mean sandwiches, wraps and pizza are the only products they need to be concerned about.
"Coffee has become the top category driver for the foodservice platform," said Franklin McCarter, vice president of sales, national accounts for The Curtis Co. Inc., who moderated "Destination Coffee: Baristas Wanted," an educational session held Wednesday at the NACS Show.
Even as coffee represents an opportunity, it also brings challenges as today's consumer demands a much higher quality cup of coffee at an affordable price.
"Coffee is not simple," said Todd Mackey, QC coordinator/trainer for Coffee Solutions Inc., noting that the standard robust and Arabica coffee blends are today being divided into many varieties based on the origin of the beans, similar to how wine grapes are categorized. "Thankfully, our customers are diverse as well."
Trends in coffee consumption include "craft" preparation, an ever-widening range of flavor preferences, and an increase in single-origin brews. Understanding of espresso-based products and preparation has also grown, leading such drinks to make up 51 percent of coffee beverages consumed. Cold-brew coffee sold in bottles and cans is on an upward trend, too.
To find success with a coffee program, retailers must recognize that today's consumer is more educated, discerning, unique and demanding, but not uniformly so. "A one-fit solution, of course, is not going to solve the problem," Mackey said.
How to Approach Reinvention
Wawa Inc. is No. 1 in coffee in its regional Mid-Atlantic market and No. 7 nationally, but it hasn't always been smooth sailing for the convenience store chain. In 2009, consumers started to grow more educated about coffee and their tastes began to mature, leading both sales and market share to suffer.
"It led us to restructure internally," recalled Mendy Meriwether, category manager of fresh beverages for Wawa. The company added a team of coffee experts, improved its blends and educated customers on what they were as part of the program's revamp, leading to its success today.
When planning a coffee program redesign, "first and foremost you must establish the goal," Meriwether explained. What underlying needs do customers have when it comes to beverages? What does the company do well compared to its competition, and which strategies offer the best opportunity for growth? And when reaching for success, how does the company specifically define success?
Wawa offered a free cup of coffee on the new program's opening day and had on-site ambassadors available to educate customers. It also took a risk by offering every size of coffee for $1.99, but the offer turned out to be "instrumental" in making Wawa's coffee program what it is now, Meriwether said. As a result, the company lived up to its goal of constantly changing and reinventing itself while staying true to its core values.
Key takeaways for redeveloping a c-store coffee program include ensuring the core brand is strong; differentiating strategies for full-service vs. self-service; empowering store associates, who are the face of the program to customers; educating consumers; and most importantly, continue learning.
David Pitron, trading director for BP UK, closed the session with a case study of the company's Wild Bean Café brand and foodservice portfolio, and how it evolved. The company turned to its customers and created a "BP Buzz" community to help shape the brand and "take out the guesswork" from the development process. Additionally, a 2012 NACS Show workshop on what women want provided insights on how to reach female customers, he noted.
After much hard work and continual refining, BP's UK stores are now easy to navigate and feature the Wild Bean Café as a focal point. Instead of existing as a value offer, the brand features high-quality coffee and hot food available quickly.
"We don't chat about price, but we do chat about quality," Pitron said.