The office coffee service (OCS) industry has enjoyed growing revenues for close to a decade. No prior year was stronger than 2016, thanks to exacting consumers who value coffee differently, wanting not only quality over quantity, but a unique drink experience and information about the coffee itself. This change was fostered in coffee houses where young coffee drinkers experimented with different flavors, brewing methods, customization and sourced beans for a crafted coffee beverage that expressed their identity. As these young professionals moved into the workplace, they brought their increasingly sophisticated view of what coffee is and should be with them, driving more out-of-home coffee consumption and an increasing demand for gourmet coffee options at work.

Personalization is a priority

In the early 2000s, single-cup coffee brewers began to appear in offices, heralded for the convenience and variety they offered. A few years later, the home single-cup units flew off shelves and became well-known to the masses, who realized a more personalized coffee experience was now available beyond the coffee shop. In 2016, growth on this idea of personalization has diversified OCS into a variety of directions, all of them focused on producing customizable gourmet drinks at work.

“We have seen the market switch to more specialty coffee service with the injection of the newly employed Millennials,” said Arjan de Groot, managing director of Bravilor Bonamat North America. This change in preference has created more opportunities for specialty coffee brewers, leading de Groot and other members of the Bravilor Bonamat North America team to focus more closely on the U.S. OCS market. “Bravilor Bonamat’s top selling brewer is, by far, the FreshGround series,” said Eric Covelli, regional sales manager. “These bean-to-cup brewers offer offices the opportunity to provide a fully customized specialty coffee and beverages program to their employees of the highest quality with minimal waste.”

Specialty coffee that can be prepared in unique and personal ways seems to be very important in today’s new corporate coffee culture. “With Millennials in the workforce, we need to be cognizant of the fact that tastes are changing,” said Mike Cochrane, vice president of sales and business development at Cafection. He sees sales of straight black coffee slipping, being replaced with coffee and espresso-based drinks that include solubles such as vanilla, chocolate or even chai. Cafection’s bean-to-cup brewer facilitates the at-work creation of specialty drinks that is currently in demand, according to Cochrane. It’s a way for Millennials to create their own recipes and feel ownership in their breakroom coffee machine. “The end user wants to feel like, ‘This is my coffee machine,’” explained Cochrane, which means this equipment has to engage the end user and create more than just a cup of coffee.

The rise of espresso

“In the U.S., the trend is not just towards a higher quality drink, but espresso and espresso-based beverages,” observed Maurits JC De Jong, a principle in de Jong DUKE. “Flat coffee [or the filtered grounds most Americans associate with coffee] can be high quality, but not always perceived as high as say cappuccinos and lattes,” De Jong added. He believes this is due to the coffeehouses and cafes on virtually every corner. “They have influenced what is considered high quality by the consumer.” For de Jong DUKE, bean-to-cup espresso brewer sales have sky rocketed in the U.S. as a result of the changes young professionals are having on the workplace. The company’s double bean coffee machine with two bean hoppers and 3 canisters for soluble products is its best seller. “This illustrates that variety and flexibility are clearly still important to OCS in the U.S.,” said De Jong.

Much of the bean-to-cup brewer’s success stems from the fact that it is not a black box that produces common variety black coffee. Users are able to look up recipes to make various types of beverages from double espressos to café lattes. Users can even get a numeric code for their specific drink combination. “It allows a faster ordering process as well as a sense of proprietorship that ‘This is my drink recipe,’” said De Jong. Giving employees that sense of connection and access to the equipment and products to create their preferred drink is what today’s corporate coffee program is all about. It’s a win for employees, who don’t have to run out to the café, but also for a company trying to boost morale and loyalty.

“Workplaces are increasingly looking for opportunities to demonstrate that their people are valued, and offering variety and choice in the beverages provided is one way they are looking to achieve this,” said Bobby Chacko, regional president and general manager of Mars Drinks, North America. “We’re living in an age where customization and personalization are the norm. People at work don’t just want a cup of coffee, they want ‘their’ cup of coffee.” Millennials especially are driving this trend, with the demand for a broad range of options from specialty coffee to hot chocolate and tea. Chacko notes that for operators, this means an increased need to offer solutions that make personalization easy.

Breakrooms will evolve

Chacko anticipates that beverages will increasingly be leveraged as more than just refreshment for busy workers, and instead there will be a continued focus on hot drinks as a catalyst for collaboration, engagement, well-being and productivity. It will change the idea of a coffee pot in the corner to it being central to productivity.

“Looking through this lens will drive greater integration of coffee and other beverages into the office environment, bringing the brewer out of the breakroom,” he said. “Bringing brewers into the spaces where people are working calls for a wider range of technology to meet the needs of the people using each space.” These technologies include solutions designed to fit in small spaces as well as high traffic areas — brewers that fit on a standard countertop and make minimal noise, Chacko adds.

A smaller machine footprint is important as progressive companies look to actually expand the number of at-work cafes they provide.

“U.S. workplaces are decentralizing their coffee outlets,” explained De Jong. “There is no longer just one kitchen or canteen with one large machine where everyone goes. There are smaller machines in multiple locations.” With this idea of coffee as not just something that has to be there, but something that creates the atmosphere of where you work, it won’t be long before every workplace will be considering adding a coffee lounge, De Jong believes. “The coffee machine has become a piece of furniture and has to be aesthetically pleasing,” said De Jong. “In the U.S. we have seen much more appreciation for design of equipment in the past few years, which is good for business. It increases the image of OCS as a whole, and allows for better pricing.”

Coffee equipment in the spotlight isn’t isolated to a single type of brewer or manufacturer. “We see a new trend in which operators are developing their own stands for workplace coffee brewers,” shared Karalynn McDermott, senior vice president, market development at BUNN. “We hear it from operators, that their customers really value coffee and want it to stand out.” That is literally translating to operators coming up with cabinets and stands to showcase the coffee equipment. “Operators customize the piece to fit into the décor at the location,” McDermott added. It’s yet another enhancement that speaks to the movement toward customization and OCS providers truly offering personalized service.

Smarter coffee machines

The future holds even greater enhancements with expanding development of digital technology in coffee brewers. From touchscreens to the invisible, yet powerful world of the Internet of Things (IoT), connectivity of equipment is the next big trend in the corporate breakroom.

“In our innovation series operators can upload media from a distance via a private cellular network,” explained Cafection’s Cochrane. The media can tell the story of the coffee being brewed or it can be an advertisement, bringing a new revenue stream to the operator.

A coffee machine using the IoT or network connectivity to send and receive data, has many advantages other than advertising as well. Connected coffee brewers can email the operator if there is an issue, such as the hopper is “out of coffee” or “There’s been an overflow”, reducing operational expenses by 4 to 5 percent, reports Cochrane. That savings is mostly recognized by efficiently managing service trips. With an alert, a technician can ensure he or she has the correct part before traveling to the location. If the problem is a simple task that needs to be performed by someone at the location, the operator can call the facility manager instead of sending out a service technician.

One of the features BUNN is particularly proud of is its picture prompted cleaning feature. “Photos come up and walk the person at the location through cleaning the equipment,” said McDermott. If there is a more serious service event, connected brewers send an alert via BUNN Link. Operators can also use it to run reports and check a machine’s status.

“Operators call the bean-to-cup report with BUNN Link a huge time saver,” said McDermott. In one case, an OCS provider was asked to provide the location with a usage report — number of drinks per machine and pounds of coffee through the hopper. “Previously, this would have had to be done manually, but with BUNN Link, the information was sent to his office remotely,” finished McDermott.

The digital aspect of coffee, including the programming and usability of the touchscreen will continue to impact usage as it better engages the end user and drives a more personalized and better experience. “It allows the operator to present a very user friendly interface to customers of the latest in specialty beverage offerings, unique taste profiles and electronic media messaging,” added Debora Mehlert, office manager and marketing of Bravilor Bonamat North America.

Coffee’s importance grows

Not only is coffee in the workplace changing, but it is changing the workplace. It is becoming a main feature in collaborative spaces where employees go for refreshment and innovative ideas. Coffee is the central point of these new at-work cafes, with modern coffee brewers that can produce high quality coffee by the pot or espresso based beverages by the cup. The more customizable the beverage, the more desirable, with Millennials truly wanting the coffee shop experience at their workplace. Part of what the new coffee machines will bring is connectivity, being part of the IoT. Operators will be able to sell advertising, share increasingly popular stories behind the coffee as well as receive information from the equipment about its status and service issues. All combined, this isn’t yesterday’s office coffee service, this is OCS 2.0.

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