Shattering The Glass Pot Rule

Convenience coffee giants 7-Eleven and Wawa are bidding them adieu; more expected to follow

There was a time when convenience store retailers believed that to be viewed as a true destination for hot and fresh coffee, the beverage had to be served out of glass pots.

That time, however, appears to be over as in recent months, two convenience store coffee powerhouses — Texas-based 7-Eleven Inc. and Pennsylvania-based Wawa Inc. — have decided to retire their glass pots and replace them with more modern canisters.

7-Eleven, which has offered its No. 1-selling proprietary beverage in glass pots since 1964, is switching to urns as part of a larger coffee overhaul. The chain is revamping the way it delivers, presents and markets the coffee category in its stores in an attempt to attract younger consumers, specifically the Millennial generation.

Younger customers recognize urns as “a freshness cue,” according to Jay Wilkins, 7-Eleven's category manager for hot beverages. He also noted coffee quality can be better sustained with urns since they hold the product at a more optimum temperature. “It's not that we want to hold product longer, but we believe we can maintain the quality better,” Wilkins said.

Quality also influenced Wawa's decision to redesign the coffee area in its 572 c-stores, retiring the glass pots it used for the last 35 years and replacing them with energy-efficient thermals.

“With all coffee served in a glass pot, it sits on a burner and after 20 minutes, the compounds start to break down and turn bitter. Putting it in a thermal takes it off the heat and maintains the same quality for two hours. The two-hour mark, we decided, is our line in the sand,” explained Michael McLaughlin, Wawa's product development manager, coffee and fresh beverages.

In addition to enabling Wawa to deliver a more consistent quality cup of coffee throughout all parts of the day, its new thermal canisters allow the retailer's coffee hosts and hostesses to better control the beverages' shelf life, leaving them more time to engage with customers.

Because both 7-Eleven and Wawa are highly regarded for their coffee — and equally known for making decisions backed with a great deal of consumer research — their move away from glass pots is leading some in the industry to anticipate other c-stores will soon follow suit.

During the recent NACS Show in Atlanta, I posed the scenario to several coffee suppliers, and the consensus was that the days of glass coffee pots in c-stores are numbered.

One supplier noted that consumers have already moved away from glass pots when they prepare coffee at home, opting instead for single-serve pods and K-cups. Another supplier pointed out the safety risks of glass pots, given the open access they present.

I think if I were a glass coffee pot, I would be looking for a new gig.

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