Cost-conscious coffee

27 August, 2010
Many bakery retailers are not interested in high-flown brews, they just want to sell a good cup of coffee. So where's the machine that will let them do that at a reasonable price? We take a look at some mid-market options
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While having trained baristas is no doubt a sexy addition to a high street set-up, it's not every operator's cup of tea. For those that can't afford the time to drill their staff in distinguishing their single estate Guatemalan roast from their Kopi Luwak coffee bean (that's the ultra-premium semi-digested bean that comes from cat poo worth knowing), let alone cost in the training, there are a range of entry-level and mid-market options available.

Easy to use automatic espresso machines start at around £3,000-£6,000, so if you were seeking a lower entry price, your first stop would be to consider semi-automatics. A one-group espresso/cappuccino machine would typically cost £1,200- £2,000. A small one-group system will make one or two drinks at the same time, and you could expect up to seven to 10 years' life out of it. But the machine is only one part of the story, when it comes to overcoming the scourge of the high street: inconsistent coffee. Grinders are equally important and are becoming easier to operate, with automated and digital versions growing in popularity. Good-quality 'grind on demand' models cost around £900, on top of your espresso machine cost, which may put some people off.

"Where bakery retailers might get consistency issues, which is quite prevalent on the high street, it's usually down to the coffee grinder," insists David Cooper of coffee machine supplier Cooper's. "With grind on demand, no matter who uses the grinder machine, even a member of staff who only works on a Saturday, they cannot get the strength or freshness wrong because the grinder automatically doses at preset measures to order. So the outlet will be getting perfect portion control, 125 coffee sales out of every kilo of coffee and no waste. We're finding that even small outlets who are only doing 30-50 coffees a day and don't need a big machine are investing in a grinder because they need that consistency."

He argues that staff training is minimalised because you don't have to teach them to adjust the grinder every day. Consistency is also improved by espresso machines with preset doses and strength. You can even get automatic milk foamers on them. How well the milk is textured is as important as the quality of the coffee in customers' perceptions, which is where some cheaper machines fall flat. New models on the market now claim to offer barista-quality milk texturing through integrated milk foaming technology.

"It is the air supply that regulates the quality of the milk froth and we have developed a sophisticated system that delivers a choice of three qualities of milk froth, in the steam milk and dual milk versions," says Florian Lehmann, MD of coffee machine supplier WMF, which has just launched its 2000 S coffee machine.

For example, the 'standard' setting on its machine delivers 50% volume to milk to easily make a latte macchiato; 'fine' gives 40% volume, for the creamy topping on a cappuccino; and 'superfine' gives an extremely dense 30% volume, with a shiny, creamy consistency, ideal for latte art creations. It also has a small footprint, a simple 'plug and clean' system and can make up to 200 coffees an hour.

Size, speed and ease of cleaning are crucial areas for bakeries to explore when taking a serious step into the coffee market. "Table-top machines are a simple and cost-effective way for high street bakers to take advantage of the lucrative coffee market," says Simon Edwards, general manager of Krogab UK, which supplies the Concerto Bean to Cup machine. "Using an automatic espresso machine enables you to provide a traditional coffee offering with all the benefits of a contemporary coffee system. Unlike a traditional coffee machine, table-top machines require significantly less space, less hassle and, most importantly, less training to use making them perfect for busy bakers who want to profit from a quality coffee offering without the hassle." Dispensing up to 120 cups a day, its Concerto machine is compact and energy-efficient, providing up to 12 drink choices. A bonus is a self-cleaning system.

Of course, the market is changing and it's not just about espresso-based drinks any more. Making a huge revival on the high street at a lower entry point is fresh ground filter coffee. Historically, this used to be made in a jug on a hot plate, and left to stew. Now, there are some sophisticated systems that brew the coffee at perfect temperatures for origins or blends, and they lock the coffee tight into an insulated flask, which means the coffee can be brewed and kept fresh for up to three hours, without any loss of temperature or quality. A commercial system can cost as little as £150, which could allow you to pre-brew a 10-20 cup capacity so you can shift queues quickly. The one drawback is that you cannot make cappuccino or a latte, but it's a way of making a very high-quality arabica coffee available at little cost and no training.

Consider a cafetière

In a café environment, this approach can be extended to under-used cafetières. "We have no axe to grind here. We sell across the board. Our portfolio includes espresso and bulk brew, as well as cafetière systems. My point is that, in the clamour for speciality coffees, some establishments are ignoring cafetières, when for many that would be a more apt coffee solution," says Café du Monde sales director Mike Osborne.

There's also little point having an espresso machine if staff don't know how to use it. Ease of use and cleaning can be a big benefit. Family-run chain Jenkins, with 25 confectionery and bread bakeries in South Wales, recently reassessed its coffee offering, after giving its stores a younger look. One of its outlets had been using a small, unreliable barista-style machine, which they have since ditched for a mixture of Kenco's FreshSeal system of a boiler and sealed, instant drinks, Kenco Singles and one Nescafé machine across its stores. Since installing the FreshSeal boiler, sales have increased by 166% (June '08-09 with the old barista machine vs June '09-10 with the new machine FreshSeal).

Because of the initially hot summer, they said they "wouldn't have expected that percentage increase". The rise was attributed to it being faster for staff, because no preparation is needed, it's easy to fill and clean and the quality of the coffee was improved. They had used an unbranded coffee since the first café opened, which was discontinued. Five of the sites have café areas serving Kenco Roast and Ground with the Kenco Sustainable Development (KSD) badge offering an entry into the sustainable coffee arena.

While its previous on-the-go coffee offer was slightly cheaper, FreshSeal still comes in under the £1 mark, which retail manager Pat Hazard noted was a "magical thing" for enticing customers. When introducing the system in a new site, they run a link deal to generate more sales, such as a free muffin with a hot drink. Describing the FreshSeal machine, Hazard said it was "good for the price, fits into small spaces and requires little cleaning and maintenance, and there's not much that can go wrong with it".

So there are a number of low-cost options that can help you get a consistent coffee to customers and encourage repeat purchases.





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