The Brazilian coffee freeze provided a valuable lesson. Community has established relationships with a variety of coffee sources to help minimize the risk of disruption of its supply chain and ensure a safe, high quality product supply.
Saurage has been a member of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) and an advocate of the SCAA’s Golden Cup Award.
While the company is organized into four different business units — grocery, coffee houses, on-premises (foodservice, offices and convenience stores) and Internet — Saurage points to the common thread: serving the consumer.
While Community uses a variety of distribution methods, its sales function is simplified by a focus on one brand of coffee: Community. The company’s mission is for Community products to be known as the best quality available, Saurage said. This includes not just coffee, but also tea, sweeteners, mugs, brewers, cups and other coffee essentials.
What sells in coffee shops, supermarkets and restaurants also sells in offices and convenience stores: consistent quality. Recent growth areas include iced coffee, iced tea, hot tea, hot cocoa and filtered water.
Saurage believes the coffee consumer is better educated about coffee than ever before, and is more demanding, a situation that he views as an opportunity. “The consumer is always smarter than we expect them to be,” Saurage said. Community provides ongoing coffee education for all employees and customers.
Employee education continues
For all new employees, Community sponsors “My First Cup,” a 4-day training course in the Baton Rouge headquarters that covers all aspects of the business: operations, roasting basics, cupping, driving and sales skills. Sales personnel undergo additional training. All employees are expected to be “brand ambassadors.”
While there are account executives whose main responsibility is sales and account retention, all Community representatives are expected to prospect and to “upsell.” Even service technicians are expected to educate customers about the range of products available.
The company compensates its dedicated sales people based on growth, retention and customer feedback.
Customer education is key to the company’s marketing efforts. Community was quick to recognize the Internet’s strength as an education tool. For instance, all customers can go to the company’s Website and access a chart listing nutrition ingredients for its 12 top-selling coffeehouse drinks.
Delivery systems vary
Community’s on-premise division uses a variety of delivery models due to the large geographic territory covered. Population-dense markets such as Houston, Dallas and Atlanta are serviced on a pre-sell system while in rural areas, orders are taken by the route sales employees.
The recession has affected sales for all types of customers, Saurage said. The restaurants have been faster to respond with better quality coffee than offices and convenience stores, and as a result, they are recovering faster. Many restaurants advertise Community’s SCAA Golden Cup designation on their menus.
Community’s customer mix varies by route. Some routes almost entirely serve offices while others serve mostly restaurants. Most serve a mix of offices, restaurants and convenience stores.
Saurage said offices and convenience stores are more affected by employment patterns than restaurants. Hence, these customers haven’t recovered as quickly from the current recession.
Satisfying customers requires communication, Saurage noted. For the office segment, this is especially challenging since there are more decision makers to address.
Offices still want quality products
Offices are looking to economize, Saurage said. But they are not interested in compromising on quality. Hence, Community sales reps review the equipment being used, the variety ordered, and the inventory stored. “There are many ways to economize,” Saurage said. “You have to stop and listen and solve problems.”
Among convenience stores, Saurage has noticed those that have responded with design upgrades and better quality coffee have recovered faster than those that haven’t. He said his customers are more discriminating coffee consumers than ever before.