How Good Is Your Coffee Program? It Should Be Great!

by Paul Schlossberg
Posted On: 11/20/2019

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There was a very good article in CStore Decisions’ September 2019 issue: “Branded Coffee Builds Foodservice.” It addressed the efforts of convenience store operators to upgrade their coffee service. That includes branding and the products. Concurrently, coffee service is being improved with new equipment plus better functionality and enhanced ambiance at the preparation and merchandising counter spaces.

Many stores are offering five or more fresh brewed coffees daily. They are also providing flavored syrups and other hot beverage condiments to enable people to customize their coffee. According to Joshua Clark, category manager, fresh foods at Nouria Energy’s Nouria convenience stores, “Coffee is the cornerstone of our fresh foodservice, and even people who don’t drink it can see that we focus on freshness.”

Think about your micromarket business. If c-stores are improving their coffee offering, what should you be doing with your coffee program? Get out of your office. Visit local convenience stores to see how well they do it. Plan to visit a few locations. Begin at 6 a.m. and make a few stops around your service area. You can wrap it up about 9 a.m. Then sit down and make some notes about what you observed and what you learned.

After seeing those competitive locations, maybe you can apply the best advice ever shared with me: "You don't have to have a lot of creative new ideas. It's great if you do. The real genius is in recognizing good ideas when you see them and then figuring out how to apply them in your business."  

What’s next? Re-examine every aspect of your coffee business. That includes at least the following:

Ÿ The brewing equipment.

Ÿ The cups and covers.

Ÿ The products. How many different coffees are you serving? Do tea drinkers have to hunt to find hot water and tea-related condiments?

Ÿ The condiments -- creamers and milks, syrups, sugar, sweeteners and other coffee (and tea) accompaniments -- will make the beverage service even better for your shoppers.

Ÿ The layout of the coffee service counter. Is it crowded or easy to navigate?

Another interesting find was from USA Today connecting to a list of the “Best coffee shops in each state, according to Yelp.” There are lots of “best of” lists and you’ll find a lengthy source list if you search for “best coffee” or “best coffee shops.” Go find the best coffee shops in your area. See what you can learn. How does your coffee program compare on every level?

Let me tell you about a personal and very positive coffee adventure. Not long ago, my work took me to North Carolina. The next morning, when leaving my hotel, a Sheetz convenience store sign came into my line of sight. The store was less than two blocks away. It was easy for me to see it because the store was situated downhill from my hotel’s parking lot.

Sheetz is one of my favorite convenience stores. Their coffee is very good. The price was right -- just 99¢ for any size cup of coffee. My schedule was favorable -- since my meeting was planned to begin in 30 minutes -- and it was just five minutes to my client’s office.

Entering the store caused me to smile. It was easy to find the coffee service area. With the 99¢ pricing, my selection was a large cup. After checking out the coffee options, my choice was the dark (strong) coffee. My cup was filled, milk added, and the cover was now in place. Now to pay. Approaching the cash register and suddenly something unique and different occurred. The very nice (and cheerful) person behind the counter made it a great day.

What did she do that was so special? She asked “Is that all? Just the coffee?” My reply was “Yes.” Then she said “You can go. Thank you.” My facial expression must have been quizzical or even confused. Then she repeated “You can go. Thank you.”

My reply was “Thank you very much.” It is possible that my statement was as much a question as it was an appreciative response. There was a big smile on my face while walking to the car.

During the day, that positive incident was shared with the receptionist and the three people in my meeting. Maybe that’s the point today. Wouldn’t be nice if you allowed your route technicians to “buy” a snack, a beverage or some food for the shoppers at the locations you serve?

Do you want to sell more stuff? Here are two thoughts for your consideration:

(1) Work on upgrading your coffee program. No matter how good it is -- make it better.

(2) Make it a priority to give your route techs the ability to “buy something” for their best shoppers. Remember that your best shoppers are known, probably by first name, to your team -- even if you’ve never met those people in person. Be sure you’re saying thanks to your best shoppers by occasionally treating them to a snack, a beverage or some food.

Three order entry screens at the Sheetz store.

One of the coffee kiosks My cup of coffee – ready for checkout. A new (to me) Mars candy bar counter-top display.