Cumberland Farms Plans Drive-Thru Expansion

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. -- Today, only two Cumberland Farms locations feature a drive-thru, but there are plans to add a half dozen more, Joseph Petrowski, CEO of The Cumberland Gulf Group, told CSNews Online.

"Our customers will determine whether we do more or not," he explained. "They cost more to operate, but are necessary if you are going to be a serious competitor in coffee and the beverage markets."

The most recent Cumberland Farms drive-thru opened in November at the chain's Worchester, Mass., store. The 4,547-square-foot location joined another drive-thru that opened in Kingston, Mass., the previous winter.

At both stores, all employees are trained to work the drive-thru where customers can order most items found inside the store. The amount of transactions via the drive-thru range from 10 percent to 20 percent, but this could be business the company would have even without the drive-thru, Petrowski said.

His personal belief is that there will be a certain demographic profile where it will be essential to offer the drive-thru option and justify the added operating costs.

Cumberland Farms currently operates 595 stores, 100 of which are considered "new." The chain is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar renovation project to modernize its stores, and plans to add 70 more new stores by the end of the year.

Along with drive-thru windows at select stores, all of the new locations feature a complete hot food and premium sandwich offering. And both new and many older locations have added a new coffee bar, "Chill Zone" and sandwich cases featuring fresh salads, hard-boiled eggs, fruits and breakfast items, such as cereal and yogurt.

"We are testing a Frialator [deep fryer] in one store, and our signature pizza is still a huge item," Petrowski told CSNews Online. "We have one person who is devoted to food, and who is constantly searching for what our new products should be and how to introduce them in a cost-effective manner while keeping it fresh."

The key is to have a balance between staple-item offerings and innovation, the chief executive said, citing McDonald's as a chain that's doing this well. Cumberland Farms will often experiment with new products in certain markets and see if they catch on with consumers before rolling them out across its store network.

"It's about keeping the quality great, the service level really high and balancing familiarity with innovation," Petrowski explained.

Two years ago, the company revamped its coffee program and redesigned its stores to make it easier for employees to keep the coffee fresh. Coffee is changed every hour and a half to two hours maximum, draining the existing coffee and measuring the temperature. Cumberland Farms also rolled out a bonus and rewards system as an incentive for employees to keep everything fresh.

The chain now offers flavor shots, cappuccino and espresso, and keeps the price competitive, according to Petrowski.

"Our numbers have been off the charts. Sales have been in the deep double digits," he noted. "Renovating the stores was key, and the equipment in the store is really important. You can have Julia Child's cooking, but if you only give her a coffee can and a spoon, you won't get the French meal you are anticipating."