Ask an Expert: Growing Coffee Sales

Supplier partners often a source of knowledge, creativity

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Brought to you by Curtis Coffee Equipment.

With today’s focus on quality, gourmet coffee, choosing the right equipment and program can challenge even the most seasoned c-store operator.

That’s why it’s not a bad idea to go to the experts for advice—and that includes manufacturers. Sure, there is a risk of getting biased feedback, but we found, in fact, that manufacturers come armed with boatloads of information about proper coffee brewing, equipment setup and maintenance, volume needs and more.

Specialized Service

“Manufacturers continue to evolve with so many innovations, so they are a great resource, especially when it comes to addressing new trends like cold brew and iced coffee,” said Mike Lawshe, president and CEO of Paragon Solutions, a retail design and consulting firm.

What’s more, many manufacturers have their own regional reps and/or specialists in local markets that act like consultants, helping c-stores with equipment challenges and needs.

Some manufacturers’ reps and specialists regularly work with major chains, so they are familiar with the retailer landscape and know what works, what doesn’t and can give good input based on a broad customer spectrum.

Right-Sizing Equipment

According to Packaged Facts, there is plenty of room for growth in the coffee business overall. Sales for 2015 topped off around $38.7 billion, about a 5.2% increase from the previous year, according to the research firm’s Foodservice Coffee Market Trends in the U.S., released this past December.

One challenge c-stores have is figuring out how much equipment they actually need, both to maintain volume and expand, if necessary.

By analyzing foot traffic, potential cups per hour and other data, manufacturers’ reps and specialists first determine how much coffee the c-store needs to brew to maintain volume, and then how much room they have to grow. This sets the stage for determining how many brewers are needed, for example, and what type based on the equipment’s volume and holding capabilities.

In some cases, simple add-ons such as satellites or a satellite server deck with highly insulated thermal pots can help the c-store handle any increases in coffee sales during promotions and LTOs.

Hot-Holding

Proper temperature is imperative for maintaining coffee quality and consistency while reducing waste.

Newer smart technologies allow coffee equipment to hold coffee for longer periods of time at consistent temperatures so even when peak times are over, there’s no need to continue brewing more coffee that might be wasted.

“Coffee deteriorates with temperature fluctuations and time,” said Nancy Caldarola, principal of Concept Associates, Inc., a c-store and retail consultancy. “Older brewing technology usually has a limit of an hour and a half, but newer, digital models can hold coffee up to three hours without significant deterioration of the coffee taste profile, depending on blend.”

Typically, solid-state control boards that allow the user to plug in a select coffee recipe will work to hold temperatures according to those specifications. Most coffees brew at about 200 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the type of the roast, with holding at 185 degrees. The brew temperature should never drop below 170 degrees Fahrenheit, but it shouldn’t scorch the coffee, either, which can lead to a bitter, stale taste. 

Some of these more sophisticated systems also help cut down on the need to constantly monitor the coffee station by using indicator lights—bright enough to spot from across the store—alerting operators when it’s time to brew a new batch.

Roaster Collaboration

According to Packaged Facts, single-origin coffee is no longer a novelty. It provides additional room to not only help justify premium pricing, but it also drives customer interest and knowledge. If the product delivers, it can sow the seeds of loyalty and return visits.

Better quality coffee can also help attract a younger demographic. According to Packaged Facts’ report, 18- to 34-year-olds have emerged as strong coffee aficionados, and they are most likely to purchase coffee rather than brew at home.

Successful c-stores have paid closer attention to artisan and specialty roasters in an attempt to step up their coffee offerings and attract this growing group. But many artisan coffees have very specific brewing recipes.

The good news is, more coffee-equipment manufacturers are collaborating closer than ever with specialty roasters to adapt their models to specific brewing recipes and requirements.

Deborah Holand, principal of b2b Solutions, LLC, a c-store consultancy, recommends reaching out to the coffee provider in this case for comparison studies or other information to help make the right equipment decisions because they’ve had close contact with and have received feedback from the manufacturers.

In some cases, c-stores looking to use a certain coffee brand or roast can request assistance from their equipment manufacturer partner to help perfect their brewing recipe, down to making adjustments to the time and temperature, grind, flow rate and brew volume.

Moral of the story? Don’t discount the manufacturer as a sales-only operation. As coffee brewing becomes increasingly more complex, many are there to help c-stores navigate the intricacies of brewing that perfect cup of Joe.