Staff love to drink well-made, quality coffee at their place of work but the recent trend for in-house concessions deals with the big name high-street brands appears to be cooling
By Ian Boughton
24 July 2008
The trend towards offering 'real' coffee in the workplace continues to rise - but enthusiasm for on-site concessions of big high-street brands may be tailing off. Big brands argue that putting their name on in-house coffee improves take-up. But one big contract caterer says it can prove that a Starbucks or Costa Coffee branded concession does not help the corporate buyer, and now a new report also casts doubt on the big brands' status.
Allegra Strategies' Coffee At Work survey used a base of FMs, HR managers and catering managers. They agreed that the quality of coffee at work helps prevent staff absenteeism for unauthorised coffee runs - 57 per cent of managers reckoned it improved staff productivity. But while two-thirds of managers suggested that specific brands were preferred in the workplace, there was doubt over what those brands might be.
Allegra's study concurred with the beverage trade press in reported suggestions that the "proudly brewed here" offerings are not up to the standard of the brands' own high-street sites. One participant noted that "Starbucks is suffering for its ubiquity, as more aspirational companies are not that keen on hosting the McDonald's equivalent of the coffee sector".
The main brands themselves agree on two things: that an identity is essential and that the FM does well not to pre-judge what the big brands have to offer. A brand on its own is a red herring, say two of the world's biggest names. The secret is in matching the offer to the site.
"Too many corporate clients are after a branded coffee offer just because they have seen it on the high street," comments Olivier Kutz, brand manager for business and industry at Douwe Egberts, one of the Big Four of the coffee industry. "Very few actually take time to think what is best for their business and their workforce.
"Branded concessions are now cropping up in places where they do more damage than good. Douwe Egberts would rather work on 'fitting in' than insisting on owning the FM's space."
Look beyond the brand, says Kenco's marketing manager Susan Nash. "The corporate client should consider what else the brand offers. We have a unique five-step model we use to consider on-site opportunities and constraints. Our advice is to review the total package and how it works with your existing facilities."
Keeping it real
Another of the Big Four agrees: "We have investigated what coffee does for productivity, for the employee, the company and the FM," says Shayne Stokes, marketing manager for beverages at Nescafé Professional.
"We've done 300 workplace surveys and have found that staff see coffee as the thing that opens up the working day and keeps their pulse going. But the employer has a rational outlook - is this coffee a cost which I can reduce by coming down to own-label?
"No, it isn't - it is taken quite personally by the staff. We are talking about far more than a brown liquid at the lowest possible cost."
Variety, says Stokes, is the answer. "We see different coffee-drinking areas in the workplace, so we offer different solutions - it can't be a just a branded coffee bar when you really need one solution for the boardroom, one for the public area and one for the shop floor."
Costa Coffee's marketing director David Hutchinson is firmly pro-brand, but he also warns against assumptions by corporate buyers. "My experience is that the vast majority of workplace customers are buying into the high-street branded culture. In the workplace, suitable alternative independent offerings are at best few and ?far between.
"Costa has full-size in-house stores, coffee carts and a lot of things in between. Even in our own Whitbread head office we have one café staffed by a barista and, elsewhere, some unstaffed bean-to-cup machines."
One of his high street rivals takes a more uncompromising line - Caffè Nero simply won't go into the workplace. "Branded coffee is as important in the workplace as it is on the high street," says international food and beverages director Paul Ettinger.
"However, a brand is not about the name but about consistent standards. We have refused to deal with the contract caterers because they insist that they control the staff and their methods fall well short of ours.
"It is remarkable that these operators still think that 'speciality coffee' is easy to replicate it is not!"
So what is the answer? Three operators advocate a different kind of branding.
The high-street brands are simply not a good enough branded approach, says Dominic Boyett, managing director at Urban Espresso.
"We receive an increasing number of requests for solutions specifically tailored to suit clients' requirements - something that the high street brands are just not prepared to do. It seems increasingly that those brands are now not 'exclusive enough' for the premium corporate client."
Pause, a new company related to US professional stance. Managing director Diana Benfield claims that a well brewed coffee, marketed as a 'house coffee', is as acceptable as a high-street brand, and that with a strong ethical stance, the workforce can 'take ownership' of it.
"We all know that a quality refreshment is now expected. We say, take your thinking further and show the workforce and your visitors that you care about your impact on the world and society.
"Our staff uniforms and posters carry statements aimed at a workforce, showing that their company has made a great decision. We have a loyalty programme in which the company achieves a reward which can be used to support local causes or hospices, or health workers in a poor country. And then we show the employees what they have achieved. This is all branding"
A matter of taste
Even one of the major contract caterers weighs in on the side of private brands as opposed to high-street brands. ?"A Starbucks or Costa Coffee concession doesn't boost your organisation's productivity and bottom line," says Simon Esner, a director at BaxterStorey. "We have significant case studies to contradict that claim."
The Down to Earth brand offered by BaxterStorey is promoted as the only completely organic, Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance coffee in the UK.
The contract caterer has run client tasting sessions, offering Down to Earth against well-known brands including Starbucks and Illy.
Each was tested for a week. Starbucks did reasonably well, but another high-street name scored an approval rating of only 2 per cent. Although Illy scored very high, the workforces were advised in advance that because of the expensive nature of the brand, it would cost an extra 15p a cup. Workforces decided against this and voted for Down to Earth.
BaxterStorey accuses one of the UK's best-known ethically sourced Fairtrade brands as being "weakly and poorly marketed, with minimal uptake and relatively low sales". By contrast, says Esner, Down To Earth was an ethical brand that the workforce related to - and sales of coffee went up 18 per cent.
Ian Boughton is the editor of Boughton's Coffee House magazine
FM QUICK FACTS
- Workers are likely to spend £1.18 billion on?26.3 billion cups of coffee in 2008
- About 42% of employees drink at least one cup of coffee a day, with consumption increasing most in the under-25s
Once the 'real' coffee movement had become established in the early 2000s, it did not take long for major employers to realise they needed to upgrade the standard of beverages in the workplace.
FMs counted the number of staff slipping out for 10 minutes to get a branded takeaway cup, and did the maths. More imaginatively, many managers realised that an in-house coffee bar provided a place for interaction between staff ?who might not otherwise leave their ?own departments.
The major coffee chain brands had been quick to get themselves within the corporate walls but is buying into a high-street brand really the best way to run an in-house coffee service?