Hot-beverage programs excelling in coffee and moving beyond.
Wawa declined to provide margins, as did Pilot Flying J, though the latter said prices can be double those of regular coffee on some beverages. And these drinks do cost more for the operator, Talje says.
“The costs on the specialty coffees, especially the 100% Colombian, are 40% higher than house blend,” he says. “The different equipment setups and the larger coffee cup size that we recently added have helped us reduce waste to minimal, which allowed us to afford serving this quality coffee.”
However, on a same-store basis, coffee sales are up 3.8% over last year at Landmark Industries, where the house blend coffee drives the self-serve coffee program.
The 411 on LTO
Pilot Flying J serves self-serve coffee, under the tagline “the best coffee on the interstate,” with typical offerings of Colombian and Sumatran. Every day eight varieties are available, and the chain runs LTOs such as Kenyan and Hawaiian coffees and pumpkin spice “to expand our customer base,” Harson says.
Landmark Industries serves its coffees in thermals, glass pots or air pots, depending on the size and volume of the store. It regularly introduces new flavors, usually offering them first as an LTO, then keeping them if they’re popular.
“We alternate between coffee and cappuccino LTOs every three months, Talje says. Last month the chain started a Brazilian LTO, which will be immediately followed by the omnipresent fall flavor: pumpkin spice.
LTOs bring vibrancy and surprise and may even expand patrons’ palates, says Sherlock. “You have a strong customer base that knows what it wants every day and doesn’t deviate, another customer base that is more experimental, and some customers who switch between brands,” he says, “so LTOs give them a reason to come in.”
As well as being able to draw customers in with good hot beverage programs and LTOs, convenience stores should be able to churn those customers out quickly, too.
“The typical convenience-store customer wants to get in and out in 4 minutes,” says Powell. “Coffee here is not an experience like going to Starbucks. Most of it has to be self-serve so you don’t alienate the customer, and usually the machines are one step.”
York, Pa.-based Rutter’s Farm Stores is one chain having success with coffee bars. In August 2012, the chain tested its first two coffee bars and quickly opened nine more, followed by another 22 early this year. (The chain continues to offer dispensed coffee, too.)
“We’ll put them anywhere we can fit them,” says Jerry Weiner, vice president of foodservice, “and into all new and remodeled stores.”