Nate Louden, senior category manager for coffee at 7-Eleven, joined the company in 2012 as an acquisitions leader, assisting with the development and training of store operators and franchisee in newly acquired territories. Subsequent positions were in the training department, on the operations team and in the merchandising department as center of store merchandiser for Patriot Zone. He later joined the proprietary beverage team before his current role.

What’s new and exciting in your category?
The rapid growth of cold brew and nitro cold brew has really changed the coffee category because customers are now looking for options beyond traditional drip coffee to meet their needs. 7-Eleven’s cold brew and nitro cold brew options have become very popular, especially with Gen Z and millennials, and they continue to drive new customers into stores. Our research tells us there is enormous potential with this platform, and I’m excited to push it forward in 2022.

Any recent changes to how you’re displaying products in your stores?
The proprietary beverage team recently introduced a new cold brew platform in both remodeled and new stores while also expanding our bean-to-cup and specialty coffee platforms. The range of quality serve-yourself coffee beverages in our stores is helping to make a visit to your local 7-Eleven a whole new experience. From a sugar-free vanilla cappuccino to an iced chai tea latte, we’ve expanded our coffee portfolio exponentially to keep up with changing consumer habits.

What do you love about your category?
Coffee continues to be a category with endless innovation and potential that makes the job exciting. As a category manager, it’s essential that I stay on top of today’s trends and be able to adapt to emerging consumer desires in a way that will exceed the expectations of our guests. Our mission is to be the retailer of choice when it comes to all beverages, including coffee.

What is the biggest frustration?
I can honestly say there is no aspect of being a category manager I would describe as being frustrating. Each day I am privileged to work with a smart, amazing team of people who are eager to sift through volumes of research to understand just what the customer wants and to deliver that. We are all excited to be part of a team committed to ensuring we have the unique, high-quality offerings that will ensure each customer gets the beverage they want, the way they want it, every day, at a great price.

How did the pandemic change your category?
There is no doubt the pandemic has created a shift in customers’ purchasing habits. We understand consumers are brewing coffee at home more than ever before because more of them are working from home. This has caused a decline in morning coffee sales. But fewer AM store visits has been more than offset by the success of our delivery business, which we were able to ramp up quickly in response to the pandemic. As a result, we have seen younger consumers shifting to delivery for their hot and iced coffee beverages. That’s why we doubled down on our 7Now delivery platform, expanding our beverage deliveries, promoting them with special offers and loyalty rewards, and introducing new private label take-home coffee products.

What trends are you watching?
Our customers have told us they want new ways to customize their beverages, which opened a door for us to do more to create a personal experience for each one. In addition, we continue to identify new flavor trends in the coffee category as we look to expand our beverage lineup for hot and iced coffee. We also see continued growth for our unique self-serve model, with many customers growing tired of standing in lines waiting for barista service. Our experience at 7-Eleven is that our customers appreciate the ability to create the beverage they want, the way they love it, with the quality ingredients they expect, but much more conveniently and less expensively. We are also continuing to watch the growth of iced coffee and new beverage equipment that creates an enjoyable experience in our stores for our guest.

What products performed well in the past year?
Cold brew continues to be one of the fastest-growing segments in the coffee category, especially with Gen Z and millennial consumers.

What are your goals for 2022?
We expect to see more consumers come to us to try our hot and cold brew options, and our goal is to make them loyal customers by conveniently delivering a full array of fresh coffee options from quality ingredients every day in every store.

What are the biggest challenges?
Inventory management continues to be a challenge through the pandemic, however, our demand planning team, wholesale and supply partners continue to work hard to ensure our stores are in stock on products sought by our guests.