Coffee Megatrend #8: The Bifurcation of Brewing: Craft Preparation vs. Authentic Automation

By John Buckner — SVP, National Account Sales


As the largest coffee and tea manufacturer and supplier to restaurants and convenience stores in America, we are in tune with the trends of the away-from-home market for coffee — which entails 10 billion servings annually and is growing at a 6 percent clip. In this blog series, we will walk through 10 mega trends we’re seeing in the coffee industry.

Everyone in the industry has been in search of the best tasting, freshest coffee. In our quest, many different brewing and preparation methods have emerged, and a majority fall into one of two paths.

The next megatrend is #8 — The Bifurcation of Brewing: Craft Preparation vs. Authentic Automation.

These two varying paths point to different consumer needs and the trade-offs they are will to make.

With craft preparation, consumers are saying: “I’ll trade speed of service to go on this journey for taste perfection which I am pretty sure we’ll achieve as I watch you measure and time and pour using all sorts of interesting vessels. I respect your art form, and I’ll pay you a lot of money for this mind-blowing taste experience.”

Conversely, the equipment manufacturers have gotten so good at their craft that they have engineered automation that accelerates the process but delivers respectable experience in the cup. Many operators and consumers — especially those who can’t pay for it and frankly don’t have the time — are willing to give up the theater, but they still want authenticity.

Nowhere is this illustrated more brilliantly than at leading convenience store chain, Circle K.

With the recent acquisition of Valero, Circle K now has more than 10,000 locations, making it the second largest convenience store in America.

With their Simply Great Coffee program, you can get seven different drinks, each in less than 60 seconds.

As long as you are willing to “be your own barista,” the experience is quite acceptable and exceptional by traditional c-store standards. Their coffee offerings eclipse many restaurant chains with better quality and more variety — all due to this phenomenal automated equipment.

It comes back to the philosophy of “know thy customer and know thy self.”

It is clear that espresso-based drinks are trending, but with only one associate behind the register, Circle K realized that their only chance is to be fully automatic. They have traded some of the art for speed at the push of a button.

If you have the ambiance and people want to wait and watch for a mind-blowing experience in the cup that is quite unique, then you go the craft route. You can afford to be a purist if you can charge $4 to $8 for this service.

Circle K couldn’t, yet they figured out how to be relevant and compete.