Convenience store chains are realizing the benefits of bean-to-cup coffee dispensers that grind each cup to order as they look to emphasize their commitment to freshness, while also reducing labor and eliminating waste in the category.
Last year, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.’s Circle K convenience chain rolled out its bean-to-cup Coffee on Demand program to 90% of its over 5,650 corporate stores across the U.S., according to Laurence Myre Leroux, the company’s global communications adviser. By December, more than 13,400 of the Schaerer Coffee Art Plus bean-to-cup machines had been placed in the stores.
“Our ambition is to deliver the freshest cup of coffee, and with the bean-to-cup machines, we ensure the beans are ground fresh for each cup and brewed in under a minute,” Leroux said.
Just as important as the actual freshness of each cup is the customer perception of freshness that bean-to-cup automatically lends to stores’ coffee offerings, noted Mark DiDomenico, director, customer solutions for Datassential research firm.
During Circle K’s pilot testing, several types of equipment got a trial run to allow the company to solicit feedback from customers and internal staff. Leroux described customer reaction to the Simply Great coffee as “very positive.”
Circe K offers four core bean-to-cup coffee varieties as well as regional specialty blends. Limited-time offers are also introduced throughout the year.
Brewed On Demand
Pilot Flying J, which has a network of more than 900 retail and fueling locations in 44 states and six Canadian provinces, first introduced bean-to-cup coffee in 2017 and now offers it in more than 80% of its Pilot and Flying J locations, said Jimmy Fleming, the chain’s beverage category manager. The company is continuing to evaluate adding this offering to the remaining stores in its network.
“Since it is brewed on demand, bean-to-cup guarantees that we have fresh, hot coffee available at all times. Secondary benefits include less waste and labor efficiencies,” Fleming noted.
Most locations have two or three bean-to-cup machines offering up to five core coffee varieties plus one or two limited-time seasonal offers.
Enthusiastic Customer Response
Des Moines, Iowa-based Kum & Go, which operates 400 c-stores in 11 states, has been featuring bean-to-cup coffee in its stores since summer of 2017 and constantly receives enthusiastic customer feedback on the program, reported Connie Kelehan, the c-store chain’s senior
category manager, fountain beverages.
Today, Kum & Go stores offer between two and four Schaerer Coffee Art C bean-to-cup coffee machines and provide six different varieties of bean-to-cup coffee, including limited-time offers every three to four months.
“We know from surveying our customers prior to the change that their biggest complaint regarding coffee was the typical convenience store coffee was not always available and that it was not always hot and fresh. These problems have now been eliminated,” Kelehan said. “The elimination of waste is also an important benefit as we continue to seek out ways to reduce the impact on our environment.”
Other advantages of the technology include reducing store complexity and labor in the coffee category, Kelehan explained.
“Since we introduced bean-to-cup in our stores, we have found that our higher-volume stores now are able to keep up with demand, and that has increased sales,” she said.
Customer feedback has assured Kum & Go management that the instructions for using the bean-to-cup technology is very intuitive and easy to understand. Last year, the company added a Spanish translation.
Kelehan said the machines are very easy for store associates to maintain. Maintenance is also trackable, showing when the cleaning cycle has been completed.
Making sure that the coffee equipment and surrounding area are kept clean and well maintained is still of the utmost importance, DiDomenico said.