Happy Returns: Pandemic-inspired equipment innovations and on-trend beverages help incentivize employees’ safe return to offices

March 29, 2021

The most significant and lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the convenience services industry is that it established working remotely and reduced in-person workforces as the new norm across all industries and geographies. As we near the one-year mark of the pandemic, many employers are seeking to incentivize their employees to return to the office with premium perks and assurances of their safety.

From new equipment, technology and upgrades developed to provide a touchless experience, to coffeehouse-quality hot beverages and on-trend ready-to-drink options, operators are well-equipped to give employees no reason to venture outside the office where the risk of the virus’s spread is greater.

A recent white paper from Crane Payment Innovations titled “Help Yourself: Coffee, COVID and the Future of Self-Service” observes that while people will eventually return to normal environments, the new habits they’ve developed as consumers may never completely go away.

“This means that even after the pandemic, self-service technologies have the opportunity to flourish by offering less contact and more convenience for increasingly conscious customers,” according to the paper.

CPI points out that consumers will still be wary of being in densely populated public spaces and self-service retail models give people a way to access the goods and services they want while minimizing contact with cashiers, servers and each other.

“In the [office coffee] space, adapting operations to include more self-service options can allow operators to not only increase the hygiene of their operations, but to improve the customer experience, as well,” CPI notes in its paper. “By providing modern, digital-first experiences that give people more options for their coffee and less contact during the experience, operators can increase both customer retention and loyalty.


Newco Coffee vice-president of national accounts Jason College emphasized that providing breakroom solutions with as few touchpoints as possible is critical. “Consumers are looking for options to enjoy their hot beverages at work without picking up servers or touching common surfaces,” he observed.

Newco, based in St. Charles, MO, offers several new touchless solutions. Its Newtap faucet was originally designed to convert glass bowl brewers to increase the coffee volume from half-gallon to a 1-gallon stainless steel dispenser in the same footprint while adding a convenient faucet for dispensing. Now, either a glass bowl brewer or a thermal brewer can be easily adapted to accommodate a Newtap touchless faucet to create a safer environment.

To retrofit a glass bowl brewer to the Newtap touchless solution and replace decanters on warmer model brewers, the warmer ring secures the vessel in place for safe and secure push dispensing. The curved bottom keeps coffee fresh and hot by reducing the surface contact with the warmer plate. The legs raise the brewer so the cup will fit under the faucet when depressed and the sight gauge allows users to see the coffee level.

Newco’s Cup Companion dispenser is another COVID-inspired innovation. It sits besides the brewer and uses motion-activated technology to enable users to add sweetener, powdered creamer and flavors to their beverages without touching the machine. Users place the cup on the drip tray under the desired flavor, sugar or creamer and the cup activates the sensor to dispense the powder. To add a different product or receive another serving, they simply place the cup back on the drip tray.

The dispenser fits under most cabinets and has three separate hoppers with 2-lb. capacity each and programmable portion control. It accommodates most cup sizes with use of optional 4” legs and the entire front can be customized to promote a brand or service.

Combining the convenience, coffeehouse quality and customization today’s consumers demand is Newco’s Bistro Touch, which prepares specialty drinks by combining on-demand coffee with powdered milk and chocolate. Newco’s CX Touch prepares specialty drinks with single-serve pods with powdered milk and chocolate. What’s new for both products is that they now include QR code technology to allow customers to easily choose a beverage and customize the size and strength of each drink from the phone app. Retrofit kits are available for existing equipment.


Delivering the Starbucks coffee they know and love that keeps employees safely onsite, Nestlé Coffee Partners – Solutions Lab’s Serenade single-cup brewer is now enabled with VirtualTouch dispensing technology. The touchless solution allows employees to choose from freshly brewed hot or iced coffee, chai lattes or hot cocoa from their smartphones for added safety.

Employees simply scan a QR code on the machine with their smartphone camera and the mobile interface guides them through their drink selection via their device. The drink’s progress then unfolds on the machine’s screen.

“Today’s workforce seeks safety along with quality and convenience when they come into the office. We’ve been seeing a lot of success in micro markets with our Serenade Single-Cup Brewer with VirtualTouch technology that let’s employees order coffee right from their smart phones,” said Melissa Henshaw, senior vice president of Nestlé Coffee Partners - Solutions Lab. “This bean-to-cup experience exceeds employee expectations, delivering the Starbucks coffee they know and love as well as iced coffee, hot chocolate or chai, all in one turnkey solution. We’ve seen that by up-leveling the coffee experience with Starbucks, it can help to support increased traffic and attach.”


New York City-based Lavazza is focused on catering to employees’ individual drink preferences – hot or cold and throughout dayparts – in a single system with its new Flavia Creation (C600) with the + Chill module. Plus, the C600 was designed with hygiene top-of-mind, allowing employees to brew straight from their phones using the Flavia Tap N’Brew app. Additionally, Kastus tempered-glass antimicrobial surface protectors can be applied to the C600 touchscreen and brewer door for “always-on” surface protection.

The C600 provides a selection of 14 types of hot and cold beverages, including coffees, teas, lattes, infused waters, among other selections, and in-cup frothing using fresh milk and nondairy alternatives.

Employees place lattes and cappuccinos at the top of their workplace wish lists, according to findings from Lavazza’s “Usage and Attitudes” third-party study with 240 office managers and consumers, conducted in May 2020.

Lavazza also introduced the new Expert System that elevates the coffee break and tailors it to employees’ tastes by combining authentic Italian espresso capsules with fresh milk to craft macchiatos, cappuccinos and lattes.

Available in several models to match the needs of offices from the smallest to the largest, Expert System features include high and low pressure for a real Italian espresso or coffee and pre-infusion brewing to achieve the most intense coffee aromas and flavors.

“With the Flavia, Expert and bean-to-cup machines that Lavazza offers, employees no longer have to leave the office to get the specialty drinks they crave,” said Lavazza North America vice president of marketing and innovation Bruce Williamson. “We also discovered there was a big opportunity in the workplace when it came to providing hot, cold, and authentic espresso-based beverages. From the production of our drinks to the thoughtful design of our brewers, we prioritize both quality and hygiene so employees can have peace of mind when enjoying their favorite beverages at work.”


Alliant Coffee Solutions, based in Edmonds, WA, is another office coffee service supplier tuned into the evolving needs of the breakroom consumer.

“The office breakroom is a sanctuary where we go to enjoy a cup of coffee, focus our minds and collaborate with coworkers,” said Alliant marketing manager Marina Cappagli. “It’s important to keep breakroom users educated and safe. Alliant is dedicated to helping OCS operators provide the benefits of a great cup of coffee and community with your colleagues without the need to venture out into crowded public spaces where the control is out of your hands.”

Alliant’s individually wrapped cups, lids, stirrers and condiment packets, made of eco-friendly and recyclable material, provide quality, sanitary solutions while also honoring commitments to sustainability.

Alliant’s 100% arabica coffee pods are available in The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Wolfgang Puck Coffee, Reunion Coffee Roasters and Authentic Donut Shop brands and provide the premium, individualized coffee experience consumers seek, are sanitary and sustainable, and packaged in completely compostable materials.

“These innovative, individually wrapped products enable OCS operators to continue to grow their market footprints during these difficult times,” Cappagli summed up.

Alliant has also put together a useful video for operators, with “return to work” breakroom guidelines to educate employees and reassure them about their safety.


New York City-born RISE Brewing Co.’s nitro cold brew coffee has become a well-established breakroom favorite over the past few years. Its flagship organic Original Black is naturally sweet (with no added sugar), high in caffeine, low in acidity and dairy free, with a smooth, frothy texture. RISE also offers a line of organic oat milk lattes.

RISE is available in kegs and in shelf-stable 7-fl.oz. ready-to-drink cans in a variety of flavors. The lineup became available through Dot Foods starting Feb. 22 to make the drinks more accessible to OCS, vending and micro market operators.

“Helping our partners manage inventory risk is going to be a big part of our strategy in 2021, and we feel Dot is going to be a part of that story,” said RISE director of sales for foodservice, OCS and on-premise Jared Ray. “With Dot as a partner, our distributors will be able to order just a few cases or kegs at a time to serve their clients’ needs.”

Ray added that many operators and clients who formerly purchased RISE kegs are now also adding their shelf-stable 7-fl.oz. cans. “They provide an easy solution that is more hands-free and equipment-light than kegs,” he explained. “We also work with several different companies that offer touchless dispensing for cold brew kegs, but we are finding the easiest solution is the simplest – and that is our 7-fl.oz. cans.”


Another refreshing coffee-based breakroom perk with an added functional boost and growing brand power is Kitu Super Coffee, which entered the OCS and micro market arena just over a year ago. It is available in 12-fl.oz. bottles in mocha, vanilla, hazelnut and caramel flavors. Kitu Super Coffee has also just introduced Super Coffee in 11-fl.oz. cans in a plant-based format in coconut mocha, sweet cream and French vanilla flavors. Functional ingredients include milk protein isolate to help build strength and provide a full feeling, MCT oil extracted from raw coconuts to support healthy energy and monk fruit, a naturally sugar- and carb-free sweetener.

“Operators who have brought in Super Coffee position it as an employee benefit because of its strong ingredient composition,” said Kitu Life Inc. vice president of business development Jack Martin. “Depending on the location, it’s either a ‘Super Perk,’ or in micro markets, it has also become a midday or afternoon pick-me-up.”

He added that New York City-based Kitu Super Coffee has experienced strong growth in the grocery and convenience store channels nationally so many consumers are familiar with the brand. Many are also aware of the Kitu Super Coffee founders, Jim, Jake and Jordan DeCicco, who pitched their idea on Shark Tank in 2018. They were denied a deal but have gone on to grow Super Coffee into a $70 million-plus Brand.

Rounding out the many ready-to-drink refreshment options that appeal to today’s workplace consumers and help them remain refreshed onsite throughout the day is San Francisco-based Hint Inc.’s unsweetened flavored water.

“Over the past few years, more people have cared about what they put in their bodies and post COVID-19, it’s even more important to stay healthy and hydrated,” said Hint senior director of national accounts for foodservice Christie Welborn. 

The most recent addition to the Hint lineup is 1-liter bottles of its top four flavors: watermelon, blackberry, pineapple and cherry. The flavored waters are available in 16.9-fl.oz. bottles in still and sparkling flavors.

“In helping welcome employees back, Hint offers merchandising and equipment that helps reduce handling. Hint also has fun swag to incentivize employees or use for consumer promotions,” Welborn said. 


[Credit: Touch Point Science]
Touch Point Science offers turnkey antimicrobial film covers for specific machine models like the Starbucks Serenade.

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