Light at the end of the tunnel? Trends for 2022? Coffee operators weigh in

Feb. 22, 2022

The Kastle Systems report spells it out. The return to the office is slow, but facility managers tell me that the momentum is clearly pointing in the right direction. What does the sentiment look like among coffee service operators? I caught up with some office coffee service leaders from coast to coast and asked them two questions:

Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

What OCS trends are beginning to emerge based on conversations with clients?

Judson Kleinman, Corporate Essentials:
‘Cautious OPTIMISM’

Judson Kleinman of Corporate Essentials in New York has been pivoting (there is that word again) like a point guard since February 2020. Now, he is looking for that open lane to the basket, with cautious optimism. “Spell it this way,” said Kleinman. “Cautious OPTIMISM.”

“I was always optimistic,” he said. “I have to say this last bout of the pandemic took a lot out of many people, because there were so many instances where we thought that we were set to return to work. I think there's a little bit of reluctance, but I also think there's more optimism now that we're going to be out of this than there has been before.”

Local roasted, fresh ideas are trending

On OCS trends, Kleinman pointed to local roasted coffee and fresh ideas. “All the people that we deal with, whether it's facility managers, HR, CEO, purchasing, they're all looking for interesting ideas to help encourage people back to the office. Being creative and looking for new ways to do things – essential to keeping the accounts engaged with you,” he said.

Arthur Siller, Evergreen Refreshments:
‘Nice to have item, is now a must have item’

Based in the Seattle area, Arthur Siller is upbeat about the direction of the local workforce population. “We have seen a large group of our locations return to work, which is excellent. Some are taking longer than we'd like but they still have return-to-work plans. Another trend we're seeing, particularly with a lot of our larger clients, is they're building new spaces or buying new property and building out offices, which is obviously a very positive sign,” he said.

Bean-to cup, sparkling water are trending

Siller observed that because employers want the breakroom and the coffee service area to be a destination, part of the reason to return to the office, he sees a trend toward the importance of broadening product offerings, a focus on bean to cup units and increasing demand for sparkling water. “What used to be a nice to have item, is now a must have item,” he said.

David Baker, Premier Vend Group:
‘Coffee is starting to come back for us'

Southern California is a nice place to be in the OCS business and David Baker is definitely optimistic about the immediate and long-term future. “Companies out here are trying to incentivize their employees and get them back to the office. Coffee is coming back for us. Our sales are improving,” said Baker.

Premium offerings are trending

“Prior to COVID, customers would ask us to cut costs, to give them coffee that is economical, but tastes great,” Baker said. “Now, customers are coming to us saying, ‘We want the newest, the best, the greatest, the most premium offerings you can provide to our staff right now because we want them back in the office.’”

C.J. Recher, Five Star Food Service:
‘Maybe that light will start to be visible’

Covering a wide variety of market areas from the mid-Atlantic states to the deep south, C.J. Recher has seen many clients “kick the can down the road for months when it comes to re-opening their offices.” He notes that at least no clients are going backwards, and many are just figuring out how to work through the situation.

“In terms of the facilities that are closed, there's some that we saw reopen in September and October, whether it was part-time or full-time, and then omicron hit, and they started peeling back,” he said. “Hopefully, as we get closer to spring and in the warmer months, and if no worrisome variants emerge, maybe that light will start to be visible.”

Differentiation is trending

“We still have plenty of businesses out there that are running your traditional drip brew OCS programs, but a lot of bean to cup, a lot of craft coffee, a lot of local roasters that we're partnering with. Everybody's trying to elevate their game and create some sort of differentiation for themselves. We're trying to help be that partner when and where we can. Obviously, it's got to make sense for the business to be able to do it, but we try not to say no,” he said.

Fingers are crossed

Several other operators I spoke to report the same thing:

  • Increasing discussions about when the return to the office will occur – in whatever form.
  • An interest by locations to elevate their game from an amenity standpoint.

Both developments are cause for optimism, but while every operator can see the light at the end of the tunnel to some extent, all of them have their fingers crossed hoping that Omicron will represent the last difficult stop on this long COVID road.

About the Author

Industry consultant and contributor Bob Tullio is a content specialist who advises operators in the convenience services industry on how to build a successful business from the ground up and advises suppliers on how to successfully connect with operators. Tullio’s YouTube channel, b2b Perspective, is designed to “elevate your business in two minutes.” Tullio is currently developing an online course, Leverage the power of LinkedIn to grow your business. Visit to learn more about VMW's contributing editor and his b2b services.


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