Are Consumers Taking Office Coffee Into Their Own Hands?

Oct. 29, 2015

Office coffee service is a growing segment for the vending, micro market and coffee service industry, with OCS revenues increasing 5.5 percent over last year. Never have there been so many gourmet, quality OCS beverages available in such a varying amount. Single cup and bean-to-cup machines—which allow variety and customization—continue to gain traction, cold brew has made its way into the industry, OCS operators are partnering with local roasters more so than they ever have in the past and many operators are focusing heavily on providing an OCS experience.

So imagine my dismay when I came across an article published in the Huffington Post entitled “6 Easy Ways To Improve Your Office Coffee.” The article, meant for the consumer reader, compares automatic single-cup brew to sweatshops and encourages readers to “take matters into your own hands” when it comes to breakroom coffee. 

The author’s argument leaves out the fact that so many great OCS options are available, however, it also highlights a glaring problem: consumers are seeking a better hot beverage experience at work that isn’t being met. 

A warning call

I’m not so naïve to think that every operator has jumped on the gourmet coffee bandwagon and stopped selling on price. And yes, I’ll grant that some consumers prefer first wave traditional coffee, but the fact of the matter is that the workforce is changing and today there are multiple generations of employees working in the same office. Millennials (and soon to enter the workforce Generation Z) consumers—as sales and research has proven—prefer a coffee shop-like experience. 

This age group has grown up going to Starbucks and using Keurig brewers. They prefer a customizable, fresher coffee experience. Earlier this week NAMA Chair Howard Chapman wrote a blog on Peet’s acquisition of Stumptown and he said it perfectly when he recommended operators need to replicate this gourmet experience, “Yes, it takes a little extra work to execute. However, the payoff comes in the form of new customers and retaining current ones. In my opinion, that's just good business.” It’s the job of the OCS industry and operator to provide that coffee shop experience, as well as the first wave coffee option.

Those operators who are integrating new trends and products into their customers’ OCS experience are the ones who will gain the most in the coming years, I believe.  There is an opportunity to up the ante, so to speak, on coffee service. When the consumer reaches a point when they believe they need to “take coffee into their own hands”, the “S” in the acronym “OCS” is lost. Provide recipes in the breakroom where consumers can create their own customized beverages; bring in samples of different coffees; take a survey to see what your customers want to drink; discuss bringing in sophisticated equipment…Keep the “service” in OCS by reacting to consumer coffee trends and preferences, or else your customers may very well just start getting their coffee experience somewhere else.