While the specialty coffee industry has enjoyed rapid growth in recent years, the OCS industry has been slow to capture its fair share of these sales. Developing delivery systems for the office that replicate the convenience, variety, quality and overall value of the specialty coffee shop -- in a cost-effective manner -- has not been an easy task. Operators and manufacturers have sweated through years of testing numerous delivery systems.
By 2002, one concept showed particular promise. The portion control brewers from Keurig and Flavia were less costly than the older hopper-based brewers and provided an excellent tasting product. In addition, they could provide variety, and they were physically compact, low maintenance and convenient.
The coffee itself was contained in portion control packs which were more expensive on a per-cup basis than any OCS coffee concept, but they still allowed the operator to make a reasonable profit in many locations. The only downside, as far as many operators were concerned, was the machines required a proprietary product.
OCS operators were accustomed to relying on a single coffee supplier. Once they bought the brewer, they reasoned they would be at the mercy of the supplier's coffee prices. This didn't sit well with many OCS operators.
Portion pack systems prove popular
Nonetheless, the portion control pack systems proved popular. Keurig and Flavia both doubled placements from 2001 to 2004, according to the Automatic Merchandiser State of the Coffee Service Industry Report, published in July 2004. The Gevalia portion pack system marketed by Kraft Vending & OCS has also picked up momentum in the past year, noted Steve Hyde, vice president of sales at Newco Enterprises Inc., which makes the machine.
Several operators interviewed for this article went as far as to say that portion control systems have saved their business.
In the meantime, bulk hopper, single-cup manufacturers have continued to improve their systems. Bean grinders allow operators to serve whole bean coffee and the operator can adjust the grind to meet customer requests. Features include multiple hoppers to offer soluble in addition to whole bean products, hot chocolate and hot water spigots.
While hopper systems haven't grown as fast as portion control pack systems in the last three years, the State of the Coffee Service Industry Report indicated these systems have also posted gains. Single-cup as a whole proved itself to be the OCS operator's answer to the specialty coffee shop.
2004: progress noted at NAMA Expo
On the trade show floor at the 2004 NAMA
National Expo in Chicago, operators witnessed plenty of progress. There were
bulk hopper systems with bean grinders that were more compact. There were
downsized portion control dispensers, including some with pourover options.
Most prevalent of all were pod systems: machines that brew a disposable pod
of coffee at just the right temperature.
Single-cup systems were no longer physically too big, complex and expensive.
The new pod systems are similar in concept to the portion pack dispensers. One difference is that the brewing does not occur within an enclosed disposable chamber, but in a permanent section of the machine. Only the pod, not the chamber, is disposed. The machines are simpler, contain fewer parts, and are less expensive than the portion pack systems.
But more importantly, the pod systems do not require proprietary coffee. The equipment manufacturers designed the systems to brew a single pod -- 57 to 61 millimeters in diameter -- that is non-proprietary. The pods, which look like smaller versions of the pods provided with automatic drip brewers in hotels, are easy to produce, and are presently available from numerous coffee roasters.