C-store operators know a profitable foodservice offering hinges on a high-quality coffee program. But after the COVID-19 pandemic paused some workplace commutes, many retailers watched their morning coffee sales plummet. Now, retailers are working to recapture coffee sales as more customers return to life as usual.
Here are five ways to become the go-to coffee spot as morning commuter traffic revives:
1. Champion Local Brands
B-Quik, which has three stores in Louisiana, wanted its coffee to stand out in the marketplace, but management did not want to have to start from scratch on building their own brand — so they decided to focus on an already-beloved premium
“People around our stores were raised on Community Coffee, and they seek it out,” explained David Schumaker, B-Quik’s general manager.
Convenience stores can also make a strong statement by partnering with coffee roasters to develop co-branded offerings, roasts exclusive to the stores or exotic coffee origins, said Trevor Boomstra, director in the restaurants, hospitality and leisure practice at management consulting firm AlixPartners LLP.
2. Brew It Yourself
Bean-to-cup technology is gaining popularity as a growing number of consumers come to associate it with the freshest cup and ease and speed of dispensing, noted Paul Servais, retail food service director for the 770 Kwik Trip and Kwik Star stores in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. Sixty of the chain’s locations offer bean-to-cup, and all remodels and new stores will include it.
David Cole, category manager for Plaid Pantry’s 107 stores in Washington and Oregon, had just launched a test of bean-to-cup brewing in six locations in February 2020 when the pandemic shut everything down less than a month later.
During that short test period, “store managers and customers really liked it,” he reported, and the chain is planning to do another test sometime early next year.
“It’s a sensual experience for customers because they can see and smell the
coffee being brewed fresh just for them,” Cole said.
The aroma of fresh brewing can also entice customers who come into the stores for other items. Cole added that time-crunched customers are surprised to find they can get in and out with a customized cup in under three minutes.
3. Cent-sible Specials
At B-Quik stores, Schumaker occasionally runs specials offering any size cup of coffee for 69 cents or 89 cents.
“We hope the customers will choose the larger cup and stick with that when the promotion is over,” he said.
To get the most bang for the promotional buck, retailers should give any special offer sufficient time to gain traction. Schumaker runs his promotions over three-month cycles because, as he explained, “for the first two weeks, customers don’t notice or read the signs.”
4. Track Trends
The health and wellness trend is one of the biggest trends in the food and beverage industries today, Boomstra pointed out. A simple way for retailers to give their coffee a healthier halo is to offer milk and creamers made from soy, almond, coconut or protein collagens in their condiment selections.
The demands for online ordering and delivery took big leaps during the pandemic, and Boomstra believes those trends will continue as well.
“To help offset a slow return of commuter morning routines, c-stores have a great opportunity to bundle coffee and fresh food for delivery to homes and offices,” he said.
5. If You Clean It, They Will Come
Even the most basic coffee area can be a draw for new and repeat customers if it’s always clean and fully stocked. This area is key because customers’ experience in this section is often the first impression they have of the store and can encourage — or discourage — them from doing any further shopping there.
“Always be prepared so every customer has the best experience and is able to get in and out quickly,” Cole said.