Aiming Younger

7-Eleven targets Millennials with latest coffee-bar makeover

Abbie Westra, Director, Editorial, CSP

DALLAS -- Millennials may not be 7-Eleven's core coffee customers today, but the convenience store chain knows that consumers begin solidifying their coffee-drinking habits as early as age 20. That's why the company focused on this demographic while recently overhauling its million-cup-per-day coffee program.

"We know that we've got the right product. We also know that our customer has been changing over the course of time," Jay Wilkins, 7-Eleven's coffee/hot beverages category manager, told CSP Daily News. "Obviously we've got a good core customer that seeks us [image-nocss] out every day, and we're very respectful of that and don't want to do anything that would disappoint their expectations of 7-Eleven. But we also know that the younger consumer is an important one.... As they get into their 30s, those [coffee] habits are formed."

As it began plans for the overhaul, 7-Eleven conducted research specifically on coffee consumption among millennials, defined for its purposes as 24- to 35-year olds and as young as 20-year-olds.

One of the key findings was that younger consumers see coffee urns as a freshness cue, as opposed to the glass carafes 7-Eleven traditionally uses. And really, said Wilkins, there is some truth to that: Urns will keep the coffee fresher for longer, while the heating element under a glass carafe will continue to cook it, eventually degrading the qualitythough Wilkins pointed out the urns will not be used to actually keep brewed coffee out longer. The company tested the urns with millennials and its existing customer base and received positive results from both.

Wilkins and the rest of the team also worked with an outside design firm to study how consumers use the coffee bar in 7-Eleven stores for ideas to make it more efficient and aesthetically pleasing. They wanted to highlight the customization capabilities of the stores' coffee program while making it even easier to navigate.

"I don't know that anyone is going to go out and say it's dramatically different, ... but the way in which that customer uses it is a little different," said Wilkins. Instead of coffee brewers on either end of the bar with customers coming to the middle for customization, the redesigned bar stages the urns at one end, and the customer then travels down the length of the bar to add his or her personal concoction of sweeteners, creamers and syrups. Stainless steel has been replaced with Avonite, a granite-like material, and the urns are placed in a football-shaped, mocha-colored base that "cantilevers" on top of a cream-colored bar.

Meanwhile, tests of bulk, refrigerated creamer dispensers are occurring on the West Coast, though any stores that install them will also offer portion-control packets. "It's a freshness cue for the younger consumer," said Wilkins. "There's also an environmental aspect because you're not throwing three or four packets into the trash."

Cups, urn wraps and condiment holders are also getting a revamp, with "very warm colorscontemporary and inviting," said Wilkins.

Rollouts of the changes will happen gradually. Since March, all new stores and acquisitions have incorporated the new coffee bar and urns, and within in the next 30 to 45 days, existing stores will start to get a remodel. Stores in Los Angeles, Dallas and Long Island already have some aspects of the new program in place.

In conjunction with the coffee program overhaul, 7-Eleven is running the Cups for a Cause program. Limited-edition coffee cups are designed by high-profile celebrities, benefiting the charity of their choice. Each organization will receive $250,000 from 7-Eleven. The first cup was designed by Nicole Richie and Joel and Benji Madden.

Abbie Westra, CSP/Winsight By Abbie Westra, Director, Editorial, CSP
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