Canadian Vending

Features Coffee Service
Coffee trends: September-October-2010

Do Condiments Make The Coffee?

September 16, 2010
By Brian Martell


It’s 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. The phone rings and one of your more
prolific coffee accounts are calling for an emergency order that
requires not coffee, but creamers.

It’s 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. The phone rings and one of your more prolific coffee accounts are calling for an emergency order that requires not coffee, but creamers.

Operators who have been in the OCS business for at least a few years are familiar with delivery requests for everything but coffee. It is a long-standing tradition that for a coffee service to be complete, the S in OCS also stands for, “So what else have you got?”

The raison d’être of the OCS provider is to be an extension of the HR manager’s tool kit in keeping butts productive and happy in their seats, while not coming to the attention of the financial controller who is constantly on the hunt to save costs (sometimes at all costs, which may be costly). So if we take the principle of adding value to the companies we sell to by making their human resources more productive, what should be the driving force on our product offerings? Value – that nebulous term we use to describe the sweet spot where price and quality converge; the guide by which we should carefully build our menu of products and services.


That said, the issue arises when we enter the subjective human component of what is expensive and what is quality. For this reason, many OCS providers offer a selection of products with different price points to appeal to a broader audience. Knowing the selection offered to one company may be rejected by another speaks to the diversity of accounts in any OCS’s customer roster.
So what about condiments? Most Canadian coffee drinkers do not take their coffee black, while most of us in the coffee business do. It is not surprising that Canadian dictionaries have started to enter “double double” into their lexicon to describe the phenomena of two sugars and two creams in a coffee (I’m bracing myself for the “triple triple” entry). Canadians love their coffee, and they love it fully loaded.

The big kicker is what a difference it makes when the coffee is made using lesser condiments than what the expectations are. Consider the following: Your typical employee drives to work in the morning and detours  to a Canadian doughnut chain restaurant (blocking traffic in the process). The employee orders a medium “double double” and walks in to the office with cup in hand. At break, they sneak out of the office and head for the same restaurant and order the same beverage and extend the coffee break from 10 to 19 minutes (hey, there was a line up!). Repeat at noon and at 3:00 pm. Said restaurant closes for renovations and they start drinking the coffee in the office, but instead of two shots of 18 per cent cream, they have the choice of black or coffee whitener (edible oil product, if you ever read the side of the master box).

Now some people like coffee whitener, and some even get downright nostalgic for it if they grew up in a certain era. But if you are used to the iconic double double, chances are it won’t go down too well – literally and figuratively.

The value proposition comes full circle.  Customers’ perception is not universal, but there definitely are common trends among consumers in any given demographic. If the town you are in happens to have a Tim Hortons and/or a McDonald’s (and I’m betting it does), then the taste perception is that coffee needs 18 per cent cream for that large bulge in the demographic bell curve. Offices that provide coffee as an employee benefit need to have this on your menu, and if the reason for the service is to be respected by happy productive employees, the HR manager should win over the CFO’s propensity to cut costs.

As recently as two weeks ago, an OCS operator was lauding the change in consumption patterns at one of his customers when the better tasting condiment was made available. His account’s structure was what operators like the least; employees had to pay for the coffee. So to encourage more drinkership, he upped the quality of the condiment, and in so doing doubled his sales (his claim).

I don’t know the magnitude of the increase in sales, but it does offer a good study into consumer behavior when faced with a better-perceived product at virtually the same price. The OCS’s costs went up – no question about that – but the offsetting increase in sales more than made up for it. What was offered before may not even have been considered coffee, but after the change, the new product became a comfort food; familiar, soothing and still maintaining that delightful sensation of warmth and alertness that only a good cup of coffee can provide.

In answer to the title question, yes condiments do make the coffee for the vast majority of coffee drinkers, be it with sugar (sweetener) and/or whitener, two per cent, 10 per cent, 18 per cent or flavoured creamers. This, of course, is only true if there is an outstanding coffee to begin with before it gets dressed up.

As with people, coffee needs to have great body before the dress is really appreciated.

Questions or comments? Visit Brian at .