Bean-To-Cup Brewers Address The Needs Of Today's Market

Posted On: 3/20/2018

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Coffee brewers with built-in grinders that prepare a single portion of coffee from whole beans have been around a while. European "superautomatic" espresso machines with grinders have been available for four decades, and the "bean-grinder" single-cup fresh-brew coffee vender dates back to the early 1980s; it transformed full-line vending.

The profound impact of the global economic crisis 10 years ago brought smaller, more upscale locations to the forefront of industry concern, and countertop whole-bean coffee venders began to attract the attention of a wider range of operators.

Jon Snyder
A seminar presented at the recent National Automatic Merchandising Association's Coffee, Tea and Water conference in Nashville, TN examined the trends that are increasing the appeal of smaller bean-to-cup machines and the factors that operators must consider when selling, placing and operating them. It was moderated by Jon Snyder, Snyder Food Services (Fort Wayne, IN). His panelists were Mike Haymond, director of coffee services for Vendors Exchange International;  Jeff Knapp, Fuji Electric Corp. of America; Tony Laudazio, Cadillac Coffee Co.; Karalyn McDermott, Bunn-O-Matic Corp. and Paul Tullio, Gourmet Coffee Service (Van Nuys, CA).

Snyder asked McDermott why bean-to-cup has become so popular today.

Karalyn McDermott
"For one thing, there's a labor shortage in foodservice," she replied. "Bean-to-cup addresses the labor issue. For another, there's a growing demand for freshness." Coffee begins to undergo chemical reactions when it's ground, while it's being brewed and when the brewed beverage is held. Grinding the beans just before brewing and consuming the coffee immediately afterwards prevents those changes from affecting the flavor. "You can identify fresh coffee," the Bunn executive emphasized.

Third, she continued, bean-to-cup brewers can be "frictionless" in terms of their ease of use in self-service applications like OCS. "Today's user interfaces are far more advanced," McDermott explained. "It's easy for people to prepare their own cup of coffee. There's a demand for an "unmanned kiosk" that delivers quality coffee, and this demand can be met today.

Snyder asked Knapp whether the market for bean-to-cup brewers will continue to grow.

"Yes it will," the Fuji executive predicted. "They deliver fresh coffee; they're reliable and compact, they're intelligent and they can be designed for easy service and maintenance."

The moderator asked VEI's Haymond about the changes in consumer behavior that are influencing the popularity of bean-to-cup brewing systems.

DEMAND FOR CHOICE

"Today's consumers want variety," Haymond pointed out. "They appreciate the ability to customize recipes and choose their preferred condiments, including milk."

"What kinds of coffee do these consumers want?" Snyder asked Laudazio.

"In general, they want more dark roasts and less decaffeinated coffee," the veteran roaster reported. "And they want better beans as well as more variety."

Mike Haymond
Snyder asked the panelists for their views on the challenges that bean-grinding countertop equipment can pose for operators.

Gourmet Coffee Service's Tullio observed that success with bean-to-cup requires a more informed location, and good technicians.

"You have to be proactive," the third-generation operator emphasized. "You have to visit the locations, maintain the equipment and have a backup brewer available. The system has to work."

Fuji's Knapp added that this requirement puts a premium on serviceability. "You want  brewer that can be cleaned easily, without extensive effort," he noted.

"Yes: you have to maintain the brewers, and bring them back to the shop for thorough maintenance on a regular schedule," Haymond concurred. "And yes, you do need to have a spare brewer available."

Jeff Knapp
Bunn's McDermott pointed out that a brewer equipped to monitor its functions and report remotely to the operator's help desk can make matters easier by allowing problems to be corrected before they affect service. "And there's a real opportunity to make use of 'virtual reality' instructional tools to assist technicians," she added.

Snyder then opened the floor for questions.

"How do you explain the requirements for a successful bean-to-cup installation to the customer?" an audience member inquired.

The operator panelists explained that effective communication with the client is essential. It's important to talk to customers and explain what the operating company can and will do and what it expects the location to do. The key is willingness to inform the account and to work with it for mutual success.

"What's the best way to place bean-to-cup brewers?" another seminar participant asked. "Do you rent the equipment to the account?

"Usually, yes we do," Tullio replied. "We see it as more of a service contract than a rental, though."

"You have to get to know your customers and find out what they want," Snyder said. "You have to listen more than you talk; remember that you have two ears but only one mouth."

 Tony Laudazio
WATCH THE BOTTOM LINE


Knapp recapitulated the value proposition of the bean-to-cup brewer: "It's more expensive. Will it boost sales and enable you to get a better price? Your answer to those questions will affect the contractual relationship you'll want with each account."

Laudazio explained that, as a roaster, he is accustomed to adapting the program to the characteristics of each customer. "You have to look at volume," he said. "Your solution has to be profitable for you and affordable for your customer."

"What demographics make a location a good prospect for a bean-to-cup brewer?" another audience member wanted to know.

"It's less a question of demographics than it is of whether the prospect has the budget for the system," Tullio responded. He added that the current demand for products from "third-wave" roasters, which require equipment able to meet special brewing parameters, seems to be associated with high-tech enterprises largely staffed by millennials.

A seminar participant asked about those third-wave roasters. "I suppose they're afraid of injuring their brand image: have you found a third-wave roaster that's willing to work with you?"

Tullio replied that he has, but those roasters will want to test the equipment that the operator plans to install.

Haymond added that Vendors Exchange has dealt with third-wave roasters that want to offer their own branded machines.

McDermott agreed. "Yes, they will work with someone who understands their requirements. A bean-to-cup brewer can be a great sales tool for them; it's free advertising."

Laudazio endorsed her observation. Cadillac Coffee sells its coffees to hospitality and food/beverage service operations, so its brand is not familiar to most consumers, he explained; "And I can tell you that a bean-to-cup brewer is a great sales tool for a roaster."

The next question was one which, with some differences in detail, might have been asked at any time since plumbed-in automatic brewers and countertop loose-grounds single-cup machines began to find use in coffee service. "I get calls from people who say, 'I saw your website, and those are very cool machines you have there," the conference-goer said. "And then they say, 'I've got 20 people, and we want third-wave coffee and fresh milk; what can you do for us?' How do I answer those questions?"

"Try to find a way to say 'yes,'" Tullio advised. "Tell them what it will cost; they may take it."

"Right," Snyder said. "But sometimes you'll have to walk away."

ENHANCED EXPERIENCE

He pointed out that those questions again raise the question of why consumers like bean-to-cup systems so much, and he asked the panelists for their views.

"Consumers like sensory cues," McDermott replied. "The sound of grinding coffee beans, the aroma of the freshly ground coffee, the sight of the beans going down into the grinder – it reminds them of a coffee bar."

"Yes," Snyder agreed. "They want the quality you get from that kind of machine, and they'll wait 60 seconds for the grind cycle to complete. It's an experience."

"The coffee shop experience," Laudazio concurred.

"But that experience in the office," Haymond pointed out. "And it can keep them in the office by enhancing the social environment there."

Snyder then requested the panel's views on new technology.

Haymond replied that advances like the use of touchscreen customer interfaces and telemetry – a remote dashboard that the operator can use to monitor the equipment's status and functioning – are finding favor.

Knapp added that this kind of thing increases the cost of high-tech machines, "but they can earn you more."

The moderator asked whether the trends favoring widespread bean-to-cup system adoption are influencing anything beyond freshly brewed coffee.

"Yes, they are," Knapp replied, "In Japan, you now can brew a portion of concentrated coffee and deliver it to a cup containing ice, by use of an adjacent icemaker. We've tested this in the United States, and it's been well accepted."

"That icemaker can be another revenue center," Snyder suggested. "And you also can sell flavors and so forth."

GOLD CUP

He then asked the panel whether the Gold Cup standard still is valuable to coffee purveyors. (It was developed and promoted by the Coffee Brewing Institute, later the Coffee Brewing Center) established by the National Coffee Association of USA and the Pan-American Coffee Bureau. It was based on extensive research by Dr. Earl Lockhart at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Dr. Lockhart later served as director of the CBI. The Standard in use today has been revised and updated by the Specialty Coffee Association of America.)

"Yes," Laudazio emphasized. "And it can be applied to single-cup fresh-brew equipment. You need to look at it; it was developed for batch brewers."

McDermott agreed that the ability to brew coffee to Gold Cup specifications remains a valuable marketing tool, one especially attractive to coffee connoisseurs. "The Gold Cup standard still is relevant, and we can meet it," she said.

Snyder asked about extras that might be provided with a bean-to-cup brewer.

Tullio replied that today's younger consumers tend to be very fond of cappuccino, and of technology. These enthusiasms can be valuable to bean-to-cup operations.

"How about using a smartphone to actuate the brewer?" Snyder pursued.

"Sure," Tullio said. It is not difficult to imagine a Jetsons-type smartphone app that patrons could use as an interface to the brewer, specifying the components of their favorite cup without ever touching the machine.

In conclusion, the moderator asked where the panelists see the bean-to-cup concept going. "What's next up?" he wondered.

MINIMIZING WASTE

"Sustainability," McDermott replied. "Bean-to-cup brewers avoid the waste caused by batch brewers." And only the spent grounds need to be disposed of.

In a final round of questions from the audience, an operator asked for opinions on the optimum number of coffee bean hoppers in a bean-to-cup machine.

"Three, at a minimum," Tullio suggested. "More is better."

"Might an account subsidize the machine, with the operator sending a monthly bill and the client getting the employees to offset the cost?" another audience member asked.

"Yes; I have clients doing that," Tullio answered.

"Or the employer might limit employee access to free coffee," Knapp suggested. "You could use a code on a smartphone to control it."

"Does everybody want speciality coffee today?" another conference-goer inquired.

"No, they don't," Haymond replied. "There's still a market for 'true black coffee,' not espresso; but it can be difficult to offer both."

Laudazio summed up by recalling that bean-to-cup brewers of one kind or another have been around for a long time. "Vending machines can measure out a presset quantity of whole beans, grind them, brew them a deliver a cup of coffee.

"We're in a new world today, and we can do great things," he concluded. "But you have to get your price."