Circle K’s Simply Great Coffee program has become a model for convenience-store retailers both in the United States and abroad.
Based on the wide success of the program in Europe since 2012, Circle K’s leadership decided to launch the all-inclusive coffee-bar prototype first in Canada and then in the United States two years ago. Over 2800 stores globally feature the Simply Great Coffee program, and the rollout will continue to all stores in North America over the next three to five years, according to Megan Baccam, Circle K’s director of hot dispensed beverage, U.S, who oversees Simply Great domestically.
“We call the program ‘Simply Great Coffee’ because it’s a promise we’re giving our customers—that they are guaranteed to get a high-quality cup of coffee every time they visit our stores,” she says.
1. The Coffee
Circle K partners with S&D Coffee & Tea to source the beans and develop the recipes for light, medium, dark and other roasts.
Blends vary from country to country and state to state based on regional tastes and preferences. Circle K customers in the Northeast tend to favor lighter roasts, while the West Coast skews toward darker roasts.
“We work closely with S&D, our coffee roaster, to make sure we meet all of our customers’ needs,” Baccam says.
2. The Equipment
“Other than focusing on our people and partners, sourcing the right equipment is so important for implementing a strong coffee program,” Baccam says.
Circle K partners with Curtis to source state-of-the-art drip coffee brewers, complete with temperature controls and sensors, timers, and lights to maintain optimal freshness and alert staff when it’s time to brew a fresh batch. While the typical Circle K store will go through multiple batches of coffee in the morning, this equipment enables stores to hold coffee longer—up to three hours—during non-peak times.
3. The “Theatre”
Part of the Simply Great Coffee program involves updating—and, in some cases, repositioning—the coffee bar, or “theatre,” with new artwork, signage and branding to create that “coffeehouse feel,” Baccam says.
Earth tones, dark woods and muted landscape scenes painted on the back wall add a calming feel, while digital signage flashes menus, promotions, product information and store branding.
There are also self-serve dispensers for eco-friendly to-go cups and lids, something Circle K has invested in as part of the company’s focus on sustainability.
Having a strong and diverse coffee program is vital for c-store success in this coffee-obsessed day and age. Here are the top three things Baccam recommends for retailers looking to up their coffee game.
- Focus on people. “It’s so important to not only focus on meeting consumers’ needs, but also on your employees and [giving] them the tools they need to be successful,” Baccam says. When it comes to the Simply Great Coffee program, Circle K rolls out training around equipment operation, brewing, daily and weekly cleaning, maintenance and basic coffee education in three phases so employees can fully learn all the information. The chain uses both hands-on and e-learning modules to train all c-store employees on the coffee program.
- Develop strategic partnerships. Connect with the right roaster and the right equipment supplier for top-of-the-line product and equipment. “You want to work with vendors who agree with your long-term visions and goals, which helps secure future growth for all parties involved,” Baccam says.
- Choose the right equipment. All three partners—the coffee roaster, the c-store and the equipment manufacturer—should work together to fine-tune recipes and ensure consistency. Selecting brewing equipment that enable newer technologies, like freshness timers and sensors, can also help maintain the quality and delicious flavor of the coffee.
Wilbur Curtis Company, Inc. had its beginnings in 1941 as a small, family-owned coffee equipment company located in Los Angeles, Calif. The company was dedicated to family values, personal loyalty and quality workmanship. Since its inception, Wilbur Curtis Company has flourished into an internationally recognized leader in the design and manufacture of premium commercial coffee and tea brewing systems, and specialty drink dispensers for convenience stores and foodservice operations.
Curtis offers a wide variety of innovative equipment for the c-store industry, each designed to deliver the consistant, flavorful beverages consumers demand, while offering tremendous ease of operation, minimal maintenance and reduced waste.
Equipment designed for the c-store industry includes: G3 and G4 Gemini® IntelliFresh® Brewing Systems that remember freshness settings and warming temperatures at the brewer and at remote serving stands. Curtis’ G4 ThermoPro® offers operators the ability to brew hot or iced coffee maximizing investment and saving precious counter space. And, the Curtis Frozen Beverage Machine delivers consistent, delicious and profitable frozen beverages draw after draw.
With over 75 years of experience, Curtis can help operators in ways few others can—not just in terms of equipment, but through insights on how to run a more enticing, profitable and trouble-free beverage program.