When your customers are rushing to catch the 06.59 from Reading to Paddington, there is no time to get your product offering wrong. That’s why, even after 15 years of running coffee kiosks at major UK stations and airports, AMT Coffee regards quick service and using exceptional ingredients, such as 100% Fairtrade coffee and organic milk, as key. It also holds customer loyalty very dear, and even today, despite around 80% of customers repeat purchasing up to five times a week, the managing director reads every single customer comment.

For the bakery goods on sale throughout AMT Coffee’s 44 kiosks, the standards are no less stringent. The latest additions to the food range, for example, use free-range eggs wherever possible. The chicken and ham used in its new sandwich and panini range is all British-reared, and only whole-muscle hams and mature cheese are considered.

With bakery sales exceeding £1 million, AMT is naturally keen to capitalise on opportunities to take the company "beyond the bean", so careful buying that succeeds in tempting the core coffee-drinking consumer into buying something to eat as well, is paramount.

Retailing from small kiosks and catering for the ’grab and go’ consumer, there is little time and space for anything but the most basic on-site food preparation, with equipment limited to microwaves or panini grills, points out product manager Kate Bibbey, so products are mostly bought as finished goods.

Products also have to be supplied at a competitive price. With so many direct and indirect competitors springing up both on high streets and in station concourses the country over, customers are very price-conscious, she says. For this reason, product price rises are an ongoing concern, and whether it’s because of cold winters in South Africa affecting orange harvests or soaring worldwide wheat prices, sorting out avoidable from unavoidable price rises is a time-consuming job.

For these reasons, perhaps, would-be suppliers rarely get an immediate ’yes’ out of Bibbey. Suppliers who have met her would, she hopes, describe her as someone who is open and flexible, but who also knows what makes a really excellent new AMT bakery product. Finding a solution that benefits both parties may mean a frank, but collaborative discussion, she says, about work involving recipe reformulation - to ensure that only the very best ingredients are used - and involving product dimensions, so that new products fit well within existing ranges and can be displayed properly, given the space constraints within the AMT bars.

About new suppliers, she says: "I love coming across suppliers who are genuinely passionate about what they’re making. Those that combine fantastic products - both ’old favourites’ and new innovations with commercial acumen - are really important in making sure that our partnerships with suppliers are fruitful."

With so many bars nationwide and weekly deliveries, shelf-life is also a consideration. However, even on this very crucial point, AMT can be flexible. Muffins from a new supplier offered such a powerful visual, taste and freshness appeal that Bibbey was prepared to take on their four-day shelf-life. The chain has also enjoyed success recently with a new sandwich range, which has a two-day rather than three-day shelf-life. The new range, which includes bespoke sandwiches, wraps and paninis, has surpassed even Bibbey’s expectations, as there has been a six-fold increase in sales of this category since the range was rolled out nationally in December.

AMT finds its suppliers from the usual shows, as well as from keeping an eye on current events in the bakery world. Bibbey particularly likes to keep an eye on the latest winners of ’Great Taste Awards’ as they "often reveal the smaller suppliers who don’t necessarily have a marketing budget but who are making delicious, beautifully packaged products". Kiosk managers also get to have a say.

Recently, though, the company advertised for new business in trade titles, including British Baker, which proved particularly effective in reaching smaller, unknown suppliers. Three- quarters of respondents came from this sector, which has significantly added to the company’s potential repertoire. She adds: "Finding a supplier with a ’can-do’ attitude and passion about their products makes working together a pleasure. Some small suppliers don’t understand the importance of good packaging to sell products in the grab-and-go environment, so when I come across those with great products and flexibility regarding the packaging, I know I’m on to a good thing."

As a rule, Bibbey looks to add one new product a month, but may trial two or three, so sup- pliers have around a 30% chance of making it on to AMT’s shelves. Quality, presentation and logistics aside, the deciding factor on whether a product is stocked is how well it sells during the trial. A good example of a recent new listing is the Toffee Waffle, a delicious melt-in-the-mouth recipe from a small supplier in Wales, that uses only free-range eggs and gooey toffee. "These are especially nice when the toffee is melted by resting the waffle on top of your hot drink," Bibbey notes, with the tone of some hands-on experience. At the end of the day, AMT’s mainstream business is serving its customers delicious coffee and providing products that match that quality. As Bibbey says: "No matter how great a product tastes, if it doesn’t look good, we’ll be disappointed with sales."


=== Kate Bibbey at a glance ===

Job history: Languages and Economics student from The University of Edinburgh, who became passionate about Fairtrade and the effect of our consumption habits on the developing world after living for a number of years in South America. This passion fuelled her decision to take the job at AMT Coffee.

Bibbey has worked for AMT Coffee for one-and-a-half years.

Top tip to new suppliers: "Do your research before you contact us, so that you can tailor what you can offer to our needs."

Favourite product: Sweet Oaties Scottish biscuits, made by hand in Edinburgh.

Outside interests: "After sampling lots of goodies I like to run it off at the on-site gym. I’m also keen on singing and I like eating out in interesting restaurants. As in my work, I am always keen to try something different!"


=== Potted history ===

AMT was created in 1992 by the three McCallum brothers. The youngest, Alistair, had arrived in Oxford from Seattle and noticed that decent coffee was hard to come by. He asked his two brothers to join him in a new venture, selling real coffee from street carts in Oxford. The carts were quickly followed by kiosks in train stations and airports. AMT, which is a small, private company, became the first in the UK to offer 100% Fairtrade coffee and 100% organic milk. Its bars are built in the UK and the installation process is managed internally. No franchises are offered. More information is available at [http://www.amtcoffee.co.uk]