A Sip of Wawa's Dispensed-Beverage Success

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A Sip of Wawa's Dispensed-Beverage Success

By Angela Hanson, Convenience Store News - 02/16/2017

WAWA, Pa. — Wawa Inc. is widely known for its stellar foodservice program, and a significant part of that program's success is the Pennsylvania-based chain’s investment in dispensed beverages.

Thirsty customers have a wide variety of dispensed beverage options to choose from when they step into a Wawa store. The retailer has a Coca-Cola Freestyle fountain machine in every store — sometimes even two — as well as a four-barrel ICEE machine; a three-head iced coffee dispenser (two in its Florida stores); and a six-bank powdered cappuccino machine. All of this is anchored by "one of the best fresh-brewed coffee stations in the industry," offering up to eight varieties and constantly changing with innovative in-and-out blends, according to Jerome Hunsinger, fresh beverage category manager for Wawa.

The large number of flavors and condiments available allows Wawa customers to have the drink they want, exactly how they want it. This focus on offering customization is continued with Wawa's Handcrafted Specialty Beverages platform. Concentrated around three main pieces of equipment — a milkshake machine, a blender for smoothies and an espresso machine, plus plenty of ice — "we go all the way from frozen cappuccinos to smoothies to the customized caramel macchiatos, chai tea lattes, and more," Hunsinger told Convenience Store News.

Increasingly, consumers are shifting away from premade beverages in favor of handcrafted and freshly made products. Even when customers place an order using Wawa’s automated ordering screens instead of preparing a beverage themselves, "they still feel like they're in control," he said. "…Freshness and customization continue to rule the game here."

Wawa is seeing healthy growth rates within its Handcrafted Specialty Beverages platform, and the program is gaining more momentum each year as the trend toward customization and fresh preparation has expanded beyond the coffee segment, Hunsinger reports.

For the most part, Wawa stores generally offer the same dispensed beverage lineup, although some regional variations exist. The chain launched a Cuban Coffee Blend in its Florida market, only to find out that it sells just as well and even a little better in its Mid-Atlantic market.

"What resonates well in the world of beverages is transferrable, whether we're in southern Florida or we're in northern New Jersey," explained Hunsinger.

While the continued success of Wawa's dispensed beverage program makes it worth emulating, the category manager cautions other c-store retailers against looking too far into the future. Instead, they must focus on establishing a solid foundation, like Wawa has done.

"I think sometimes people jump too quickly to what I would call elevated or enhanced needs before they have established themselves as credible in the basic needs," said Hunsinger.

"Basic needs" are basic customization, freshness, convenience, cleanliness, affordability, and fast and friendly service. "Enhanced needs" include zeroing in on what's currently trendy and focusing on things such as building an environmentally friendly, socially conscious story for the brand.

Hunsinger is a proponent of the crawl-walk-run approach, whereby retailers get the basics down pat first before progressing to more premium offerings, expanded customization, seasonal offerings, and other enhanced features.