Beverages a Focal Point in Pilot Flying J’s Facility Enhancement Plan

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Pilot Flying J store 411 interior

Beverages a Focal Point in Pilot Flying J’s Facility Enhancement Plan

By Melissa Kress - 10/25/2017
Bean-to-cup coffee platform

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Pilot Flying J kicked off 2017 with the announcement that it was going to invest nearly $500 million to renovate existing locations over the next five years. Dubbed the Facility Enhancement Plan, the company will reimage approximately 45 stores this year and 50 next year.

The aim of the Facility Enhancement Plan is to refresh and modernize the company’s more than 750 Pilot Travel Centers and Flying J locations throughout North America to be an inviting place to work and shop, while challenging the stereotypes of what a truck stop should look and feel like.

Along with foodservice, beverages are a focal point in the enhancement plan, particularly Pilot Flying J's new bean-to-cup concept in its coffee platform. According to Scott Stuart, senior category manager, the company installed the concept in its first stores in mid-April.

"The concept is to deliver to the guests the most absolute freshest coffee possible. The platform is brew on demand," Stuart explained. "The guests select the size of the cup, the coffee, and then the machine grinds the coffee, brews it and dispenses it. It works a lot like a French press."

The machine also does iced coffee, which he said is one of the coffee category drivers.

"The coffee mix in the stores where we have the bean-to-cup concept really surprised me. We were shooting for about 25-30 percent and we thought that was really ambitious. But in this store [Store 411 in Lebanon, Tenn.], it was 50 percent yesterday (June 28) and in the other nine test stores, we don’t have one that is less than 40 percent," Stuart told Convenience Store News during a recent visit to Store 411, the retailer’s first newly reimaged Pilot Travel Center.  

At first, the guest may find the bean-to-cup machine a little intimidating, but once they try it, see how simple it is and have the experience with it, they are won over, he shared.

convenience store cold vault

In addition to hot dispensed beverages, the company is putting an emphasis on cold and frozen dispensed beverages with new machines that allow customers to customize flavors.

The cold vault — or cooler, as Pilot Flying J refers to it — is a focal point as well. Calling the cooler "one of our most important businesses," Chief Merchant Brian Ferguson said the company's velocity in packaged beverages is unbelievable. Over the past year, Pilot Flying J has worked to localize the assortment and offering in each cooler countrywide.

"In the southeastern U.S., the customer prefers certain things vs. customers on the West Coast. We expanded a lot of the assortments. For example, we are now offering premium water, sparkling water, bottled coffees," he explained. "This is our pride and joy."

In addition, the retailer is building beer caves where space allows.

"The cooler is an emphasis in our Facility Enhancement Plan, to really make it an experience for the customer," Ferguson said.

Look in the October issue of Convenience Store News for our exclusive and in-depth cover story on the reinvention of Pilot Flying J.