As Coffee Service Becomes More Diverse, Operators Rediscover Product Education

It is getting harder and harder to generalize about coffee service any more.Once upon a time, coffee service was easily defined. There were different delivery models, but the service at the location was fairly uniform, from New York to California.As products and equipment have changed and become more diverse, coffee service has taken on a host of meanings.Back in July of 2008, I wrote a column about paper-based, coffee filter pods. I revised an earlier column in which I claimed that manual pod brewers were history, that the single-cup revolution was destined to prosper without them.In July of 2008 I recognized two market forces that were breathing new life into coffee pods: the rising consumer single-cup market, which created new competition for single-cup products for coffee service operators, and cartridge sustainability, a growing consumer concern.Since writing that column, these forces have continued to affect coffee service operators. The manual pod systems remain far behind the more established single-cup systems, as our 2010 State of the Coffee Service Industry report indicated, but more and more operators are discovering pods as an alternative. The numbers may not show it, but conversations with operators in the field indicate change is in the air.Whats happened in the last year is that some established brewer manufacturers have recommitted themselves to the pod market, and some name brand coffee roasters have joined them.Consumer demand for alternative products that deliver a high quality cup of coffee at less cost in an environmentally sustainable manner have been recognized by observant coffee service operators nationwide.These demands have not only affected pods, but hopper-based single-cup systems as well, including liquid-based single-cup systems.Demand varies a lot by individual geographic market.Coffee service operators who truly recognize the benefits of their products and services are rediscovering the importance of product education and customer communication (i.e., salesmanship).Keeping track of the disparate trends in coffee service has become more and more challenging. Thats my issue.But for coffee service operators, the future remains exciting.