CHICAGO -- Convenience-store coffee has come of age. In the past, consumers might have lumped c-store cafe drinks in with free coffee from a car dealership or the temperamental cappuccino machines in hospitals. Today, retailer’s on-trend limited time offers, premium coffee lines and sustainability initiatives have helped c-store coffee shed its stale, bitter chrysalis to become a sophisticated option for consumers. Two-thirds of customers say that they agree or strongly agree that c-stores are just as capable as restaurants in offering a great cup of coffee, according to CSP sister data firm Technomic’s Fall 2018 Convenience-Store Consumer MarketBrief.
Retailers’ efforts to win the hearts, minds and palates of coffee snobs are far from over, however. Here’s what consumers want from their java experience, according to the report ...
When it comes to getting their caffeine fix, consumers have their pick of channels. Quick-service restaurants, mass merchandisers and supermarkets are all building sophisticated coffee programs. About 46% of surveyed consumers purchase coffee more than once a week at fast-food locations, and nearly one-third do the same at supermarkets and mass merchandisers. That means convenience stores should probably sweat the details. For instance, a clean store is essential for java drinkers. About 90% of consumers who purchase c-store coffee at least once a week say it is important or very important, according to the report.
Cleanliness isn’t the only sticking point for coffee consumers. Weekly c-store coffee drinkers are looking for a deal, with 88% reporting the best value for their money is important or very important.
Some like it hot
C-store customers’ coffee preferences vary by generation. More than half of regular c-store coffee consumers opt for the convenience of self-serve hot coffee, followed by hot coffee made by an employee (42%). Younger customers, however, are more likely to purchase cold options. Nearly a quarter of Gen Zers and millennials purchase made-to-order cold specialty coffee more than once a week. About 20% of Gen Z consumers purchase cold specialty coffee from a self-serve machine.
Man or machine
While some retailers are investing in barista specialists, others are automating different aspects of the coffee experience. Most consumers prefer their specialty coffee to be prepared in a push-button machine (28%) or digital machine (21%). About 18% of consumers prefer that their specialty coffee is handmade by staff. Roughly 35% of tech-savvy Generation Z consumers prefer buying c-store coffee from a digital machine that allows for beverage customization.