Face to face at Costa

18 April, 2008
Beverley Tate, head of food development at Costa, reveals to Hayley Brown how the UK's biggest coffee chain sources product and rotates its offer to keep up with a fast-paced demand
Page 18 
How did your career progress before joining Costa Coffee?
My background initially was in high volume contract catering with Letherby & Christopher, Leith's and Compass working at various sites in deputy or general manager roles; Ascot and Windsor Race courses, Lords Cricket Ground, EICC. During this time, my key areas of focus always included the hospitaly menus and progressed into assisting the set-up of the chef training schedules. I then moved more into the food development side of the business with Aramark developing their 'fresh!' food concept - 10 modular hot and cold food concepts that could be implemented in different contract catering accounts. Key accounts here included Arthur Andersen and Credit Suisse First Boston. From this point I decided that I wanted to move into retail and was approached by the MD of Costa at the time, Mike Tye, who had formerly worked with Aramark, to join Costa, taking on responsibility for their food offering and product development.What do you particularly enjoy about your job?The variety and scope of the role is amazing. One day I can be looking at scoping the seasonal food offer in China with our in-market team, to inducting new franchise food development personnel, to being part of our food development review panel in the UK, reviewing our Christmas sandwich range, to determining the market opening strategy for a new country. I enjoy working with our food development teams throughout Costa internationally - we trade in 22 countries - to help develop their careers and widen their view of how Costa can work successfully in different regions.Would you describe bakery pro-ducts as key to your offering?Our customers see our hot-eat sandwiches, most notably our paninis, as a key differentiator in the food we offer. As such, we are very demanding about our bread recipes and how they must be delivered to the same standard worldwide.Sandwiches and pastries are a natural accompaniment to coffee and as such form a major part of our food offer and sales mix.What are your key respon- sibilities at Costa?As head of food development, I work with our food development team and our procure- ment team to ensure we have the right food on offer, at the best quality and price we can find.At Costa, we recognise there may be some regional variations needed. This does not mean that the core of the brand is substantially changed, as the Costa experience is what our customers want wherever they go, but subtle changes work well.My main responsibility is to set the strategic direction for the food at Costa. I am also involved in any new market openings, understanding the competitive set and deciding what the opening food range will look like.The day-to-day management of the food development teams over different overseas time zones also keeps me busy.What are the biggest challenges you face in your job?The biggest challenge involves working at such a fast pace over so many different countries and time zones. We open on average over 200 stores annually and anywhere from three to five new countries.We strive hard to ensure that we're aware of all global food trends and are continually deciding how these trends can be interpreted in our food offer. And this can differ by country.In the UK, our biggest challenge is the amount of space we have to display our food to the customer. This means we have to be very specific about the level of sales we need from each sku for it to remain in the range.While this is a good discipline, from a development point of view, I would like to have more space to offer even more food.What bakery products do you sell and what proportion of this makes up sales?We currently sell four pastries: chocolate twists, almond crois-sants, pains au raisin and plain croissants. Our annual pastry spend is about £4 million. We also have a range of hot and cold sandwiches and paninis - about 17 different fillings at any one time. Sandwiches total about 40% of our food sales.Explain the business' structure - how many stores, locations/ regions and branding.Costa has just over 650 stores in the UK; of this, about 450 are our equity estate and therefore owned by the brand, while the remaining 200 stores are either concessions or franchised. Costa also operates in a further 21 countries, ranging from the Middle East to Romania and Poland, to India and to Shanghai. We opened in Moscow in Russia recently.What is your typical visitor to the shops or consumer of bakery products? Our typical customer varies depending on the location of our stores and the different countries. Our stores range from shopping centres to bookstores, to on the high street, to motorway stations. As such, we need to cater for varied tastes and age groups.What all our consumers have in common is that they're looking for a break and some sustenance. Our customers are relatively discerning and automatically expect a great cup of coffee from us every time. We also aim to offer a range of great food that can be eaten as a snack that perfectly complements the coffee.In what ways do your role and those of the buyers overlap?I have a procurement team - one in sweet products, one in savoury and one in beverages - that works for us throughout the development process, as well as the price negotiation, to ensure they are fully coherent with our requirements and the end-product we are looking for.How do you go about sourcing new products/suppliers?We are contacted by many suppliers looking for us to take their products. We generally attend all the key and relevant food shows globally, so we meet some sup-pliers there.Our current suppliers also do the same and, quite often, will recommend products they think might be suitable for the brand. Word-of-mouth and industry publications are also good sources of information.What is the most successful product/supplier that you've introduced to your stores?We have a great partnership with all our key suppliers. We deliberately use the word partnership, as this is how we view them.For example, our sandwich manufacturer Buckingham Foods has been working with us over the last four years and has just won our tender to continue in this sector of our business for another three years.How many products would you say you introduce annually?We work on a seasonal basis with our food offer. Generally we change a minimum of at least four products across the ranges each month. One month, it could be sandwiches, the next month cakes and the third month pastries and so on.We also take into account key festive times of the year, such as Christmas or Valentine's Day. Last year we calculated that we had introduced over 100 new food products over the year.Do you trial products in-store?Our customer is at the heart of any development we do. As such, we are continually trialling new products, new methods of cooking food and new ways of merchandising in our stores. Generally, there are at least three to five different trials going on in our UK stores at any one time.We have a defined brief for all our suppliers of what the food at Costa should be about, so with our current supply base, we are rarely presented with food that does not match our strategy or our customer needs.What are your dos and don'ts for bakery suppliers?My main tip would be not to arrive at your first meeting, open your laptop and give a standard credentials presentation. It is very boring and does not make your potential buyer feel that you have spent any real time thinking about their company, their brand and their customers. We want to see the product and then, if it is a good product, all those details become relevant. If not, it's just a waste of time.



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