Wawa's Foodservice Reinvestment Plan Progresses

WAWA, Pa. -- Cappuccinos, lattes, chai and other made-to-order hot and cold espresso beverages are hitting Wawa Inc.'s convenience stores as part of the chain's latest foodservice reinvestment initiative.Two years ago, Wawa took a similar approach with its self-service coffee section – replacing glass pots with thermals and rebranding the area. This year, the chain is rolling out made-to-order espresso drinks, while adding new graphics and digital signage to the foodservice section in its stores.

The changes began in January, and all of the stores should be updated with the new features by the end of the third quarter, said Mary-Rose Hannum, director of new initiatives for foodservice at the nearly 600-store chain.

"We have been testing a variety of items for the past several years, and we knew our strength was in self-serve beverages, but we wanted to fill in the gap with full-service offerings," Hannum told CSNews Online. "We tested the full-service espresso beverages in 30 or more stores, and then tweaked the offering over time until we decided to roll it out across the chain."

The retailer is installing a new machine in stores to brew the hot and cold espresso beverages, which include hot or iced chai, cappuccinos and lattes. Hannum said over time, the company plans to expand into other products that include steamed milk, and while the quality is the same as high-end specialty coffeehouses, Wawa's pricing is "very competitive."

"Customers are surprised at the quality and are very happy with it," she added.

The new line is an extension of the chain's smoothies and frozen cappuccinos, launched in 2010 along with a coffee section reimaging. While all employees are trained to make the new drinks, there are people designated to be the lead on making beverages for each shift. Currently, its espresso menu offers more than 22 options, in addition to the smoothies and frozen cappuccinos.

A full-service coffee bar now sits in the stores between the self-service coffee section and the foodservice area – which is also being reimaged, according to Hannum.

"We are updating the design and adding digital signage," she explained. "We are using new colors and new materials on the back wall of the deli area, and revamping the front where the customers stand. Customers report the new design makes the stores seem brighter, and offers a fresher feel when you walk in."

After deciding to reduce some of the static signage in stores, the chain tested digital signage via flatscreen monitors in the coffee and foodservice area, which are now in 400 stores and being rolled out chainwide. These screens feature promotional advertising and store information, and are controlled centrally from headquarters. There is a schedule for how often messages are changed.

"In the coffee section, [the digital signage] displays all of our beverages, and highlights what the featured flavor is for that time period," Hannum said. "In foodservice, it features promotional and limited-time offers."

Overall, the reinvestment rollout is going well so far, and the foodservice menu is also evolving as the chain tests fresh-baked rolls. The biggest challenge is customer awareness, which Wawa is overcoming by doing in-store sampling and coupons.

"We are known for self-service coffee, so it will take a little time to let our customers know they can now come for a latte or cappuccino," Hannum said, noting more advertising will be done once the new features are available in all stores.