The Buzz Around C-Store Coffee Bars

How equipment helps build a strong program

There’s good news for convenience stores that are in the coffee business: According to a 2016 report from market research firm Mintel, more than half of consumers who had visited a c-store said the stores’ coffee was as good as that served in a coffee shop.

coffee to-go

In fact, 42% of consumers reported having purchased coffee in a c-store, making it second only to fountain beverages in the made-to-order/fresh foods and beverages category.

Given these numbers it’s no surprise that retailers are putting more emphasis on their coffee programs.

Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz has coffee bars in all of its 540 locations, in six Eastern states. They offer full-service and self-serve—everything from drip coffee to cappuccinos.

The coffee bar sections are small “so it’s about trying to make the most impact with the least amount of space,” says Matt Gray, coffee concepts manager.

Gray doesn’t change up his coffee display but keeps it dependable. “People get their coffee before they are awake and you don’t want to complicate their day.”

He also positions the coffee machines carefully since his favorites have forward-facing flat surfaces that he uses for marketing, “which is incredibly valuable,” he says. Sheetz has award-winning commissioned artwork, all in similar colors (yellows to sepia) that bring a cohesive look and feel to its coffee bars, while also helping to brand them.

As for the equipment itself, Gray takes it very seriously. “It needs to take a hit and needs to last for five or six years and still look good.” He also likes having the ability to replace things that wear out, as well as parts that get really dirty.

Easy cleanability and maintenance are key, so an employee can try to fix a problem, or if it’s more technical, that the chain’s maintenance crew doesn’t find the equipment too complicated.

Gray’s keen to see new equipment being rolled out soon from BUNN. According to Bob Pierce, senior vice president North America, the new pieces are the best yet.

On the technology side, all information, such as recipes for different drinks, is now on a USB flash drive, so they’re not lost during a power outage, and can be easily changed or updated. And the machines are connected, so communicate any issues directly to BUNN so service and repair can be dispatched—often before c-store staff know there’s an issue.

This technology also means the machines are also foolproof—nothing can be misinterpreted so there’s consistency with every drink.

And, they’ll make Gray happy: They’re more appealing, aesthetically. “We wanted them to be more sleek, and softer with contours,” Pierce says. They come in two colors (black, stainless or black-stainless), and “look like they’re part of the décor.” Operators can include their branding on the outside of machines to customize them.

Pierce also points out that the machines are more user-friendly and intuitive than previous iterations. And, in what may appeal most to operators like Sheetz, they’re easier to clean with picture prompts on models with touch-screens.
Who doesn’t want to spend less time getting their machines clean and their hands dirty?

This post is sponsored by BUNN