Serving Up Solutions With Convenient Coffee

10/4/2010

Sara Lee Foodservice

C-store consumer insights and best practices

Successful coffee retailers don’t just sell a cup of coffee, they sell an experience to their customers. While it begins with a quality product, it doesn’t end there. Convenience stores have to offer an experience and a solution that go beyond the product. Why should I come to your convenience store for my cup of coffee and not patronize my local coffee shop, quick-service restaurant (QSR) or the three other convenience stores I pass each day on my way to work? In reality, there should be several reasons.

While the convenience store channel continues to grow and see success even in these challenging economic times, it is not unaffected. Shifts in daypart traffic and consumer preference require even the most seasoned operators to reexamine offerings on a regular basis. Still, there is ample opportunity to grow the staple of the foodservice business — your coffee operation. Coffee is a destination trip that in many ways defines a convenience store. Operators simply need to adhere to a few basic principles and ensure the experience is, above all, convenient.

First order of business: freshness. While freshness certainly refers to the product, it extends much further to include marketing materials, signage and the overall cleanliness of an operation. And no other aspect of your operation is a more prominent representation of freshness than your coffee station. The overall appeal and perception of the coffee station is a direct indicator of the product freshness. It should be easy to navigate, have a practical layout and create a level of comfort with regards to your store’s sanitation. Space is equally important. A well-conceived coffee station that embodies freshness and encourages purchases should have enough space to accommodate multiple customers, even in their puffy, winter coats.

Of course, the freshness of the actual product housed in a well-organized and inviting coffee station is a critical component of the customer’s coffee experience. On-demand, liquid coffee concentrate solutions are growing in popularity and penetration for their unique ability to provide a consistent, guaranteed-fresh cup of coffee during any daypart. It is always fresh with little operational execution risk. So when a customer seeks that afternoon pick-me-up, they receive the same fresh-brewed taste they expect in the morning on their way to work. Coffee delivery and consumer perceptions have changed dramatically in recent years. Where pots were once the beacon of freshness and authenticity, newer research indicates a shift in consumer preference for convenience store coffee delivery vehicles. Regardless of how you choose to deliver coffee, taste is the ultimate indicator of freshness and repeat business contributor.

Another basic principle — and coffee house and QSR differentiator — is the customization component. The ability to customize hot beverages is an offering almost exclusive to the convenience store channel. The act of creating one’s own concoction is empowering and gratifying. Don’t only allow customers to mix half cappuccino, half coffee and use four creamers, encourage it. Let them know they’re allowed to customize their beverage. Relinquish control to the customer. It’s all part of the convenience store experience.

In addition to the overall customization concept, it is important to adhere to assortment expectations. Know what the customer wants and offer the core assortments specific to your region, market and consumer base. But don’t stop there. Equip customers with the opportunity to explore and expand their horizons. Supply unique offerings to keep them surprised and delighted. Accommodate adventurous ambitions and again, encourage exploration. For example, sustainable and organic coffee offerings are a growing trend in coffee and that specifically resonates with the 18- to 34-year-old consumer — an authority in convenience store purchasing power.

Taking customization and assortment offerings one step further is the concept of limited-time offers (LTOs). It is imperative to be on-trend on a regular basis. By implementing a regular calendar of unique, seasonal or specialty offerings, you capture the topical, trendy allure of coffee shops and bring it to the convenience store. An example would be weaving seasonal dessert flavors into specialty beverage offerings, such as pumpkin spice cappuccino — a staple of the fall season. Red velvet cupcake cappuccino and gingerbread latte, two new recent introductions, also play on major dessert trends.

After fulfilling your coffee bar freshness expectations, encouraging customization, expanding assortment offerings and implement LTOs, you need to maintain that competitive advantage and win the breakfast battle with bundling. By offering a cup of coffee paired with an individually wrapped breakfast bakery item or handheld breakfast sandwich, you can drive more sales and profits, leveraging the coffee category destination-driver attribute. Utilizing in-store promotions and exterior communication signage for bundled offerings, you keep the store top-of-mind for the full breakfast meal solution. Instituting bundling allows you to increase coffee and breakfast item sales in the morning daypart, and win the consumer over. But it shouldn’t stop there. Bundling opportunities can be realized for lunch, midday and evening snacks as well. Still, while bundling helps convenience stores gain and maintain ground in the breakfast battle and beyond, not all foodservice companies can provide the opportunity. It is a unique offering that only certain foodservice providers with a robust and comprehensive portfolio that covers both ends of the food and beverage spectrum can deliver.

Operators can serve solutions and capitalize on the growing coffee category by identifying and implementing a few key practices, and realize increased sales and customer satisfaction along the way. Convenience stores are aptly named. The challenge is to highlight and demonstrate why they bear that name and deliver on the expectation. Engaged and devoted operators recognize both the challenge and opportunity.

Catherine Porter is the senior customer marketing manager, convenience stores, for Sara Lee Foodservice. With more than 10 years experience in creating and implementing marketing plans for food and beverage brands, she offers customer partners impactful consumer insights. At Sara Lee Foodservice, Porter plays a role in convenience store channel analysis and strategy development.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.

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