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What’s Hot on Cold Drinks
By Jeff Woods

With the warmer days of spring and summer nearing, iced and blended beverage sales is where you should be placing your marketing focus. No matter what region of the country you live in, the current trend is moving towards signature-iced beverages for two reasons; they quench the summer heat, and your profit margins are often higher.

Well, what works? How can you successfully offer this to your patrons? In order to give the coffee business owner the proper scope to this growing “cold front,” I’ve asked our customer experts in each region to divulge their iced recipes for success.

Big Foot Java was recently voted “Best Drive-Thru” in Seattle. What is the reason for their success? Aside from their highly visible building structure and strong brand presence, Big Foot has a unique menu, loaded with specialty signature drinks.

“During the spring and summer months, we focus on ice cold ‘Frost Bites’ (Big Foot’s jargon for blended drinks),” says Jennifer Whitmore, director of operations. “Every drink on our menu can be made into a Frost Bite for $0.50 more. This adds to the customers’ experience and the bottom line.”

They’ve done a great job selling their blended Frost Bite program to the public. Even before they’ve reached the barista, the customer is lured in by the creative promotional posters. “We have sandwich boards in June, July and August saying, ‘Try Our Mouth Watering Ice Cold Blended Drinks.’”

According to Jennifer, they’ve even developed marketing catch phrases for their baristas to use, enticing customers into trying the more expensive signature Frost Bites. “We ask each customer if they would like their drink prepared hot, cold or if they would like to ‘make it a Frost Bite.’ This gives the customer a chance to try something refreshing on a hot day.”

In order to make everyone in the car happy, Big Foot expanded their iced lineup to include coffee-free and kid-friendly beverages. Their attempt to gain a larger market share has been a huge success. “We carry lots of ice cold drinks that don’t include coffee. We have blended fruit teas and five different fruit Frost Bites.”

The choices for consumers are also made clear from the start. Big Foot’s menu is intelligently laid out, and marketed to every customer. For the children, there’s the “Little Foot Menu.” The health and fitness conscious are also included with the “Slim Foot Menu,” giving customers a choice of having most of the Frost Bite drinks made with sugar-free and non-fat products.

Since 1994, City Dock Coffee has been leading the way in educating the northeast on specialty coffee trends. Megan Brown, City Dock’s merchandising and training manager, has noticed a recent surge in iced coffee interest at their six locations. “With the sophisticated coffee knowledge pushing further and further east across the country, comes a more eager and adventurous clientele, willing to move from drip to espresso, and now finally to the ‘Great Icy’ coffee beverages.”

In and around the state of Maryland, iced coffee-based drink sales are soaring quickly. Megan explains, “While many customers used to think that cold coffee is what happens after your morning brew sits on your desk all day, we are now seeing a tremendous rise in cold drink customers.”

Since iced drinks are not the most popular coffee beverages in their region, Megan and City Dock’s marketing team has learned to adapt to their audience. The time and effort spent on developing a solid understanding of their market has been met with great success. “Now, we are reaping the rewards by having given our coffee drinkers a reason to come in all four seasons. In the summer months, our cold beverage program constitutes upwards of 25% of our total revenue!”

To appeal to the masses, City Dock altered their approach to iced offerings. “We had to come up with the best iced coffee we could find. Here at City Dock, we must be surrounded by purists, because our best selling iced drink is our plain, iced coffee made fresh, using the toddy method.”

Still, espresso drinks play an important role. City Dock noticed the positive feedback consumers in the northwest have had towards the blended coffee and espresso-based signature drink menus, and followed suit. Like Big Foot, City Dock’s cafés incorporate iced drinks in their menus that can only be purchased at their locations. Megan explains, “Personalized or ‘Signature Drinks’ make up a large percentage of our sales. There are so many creative combinations, and all you have to do is attract peoples’ attention with signage and samples to get customers to try them. We took our success with our ‘Cappuccino Chill’ and stepped it up a level, by adding Oreo, or Heath chunks and created the ‘Cappuccino Chill Crunch.’ It’s the same base product with a sexy twist. We always start with our base mix and add a shot of our own espresso to the blended drinks to ensure that every drink has our own signature coffee flavor.”

They highlight these specialty beverages with “quirky, funny and irresistible pictures” to make the selection process easy and alluring. They then couple their signature drink menu with “endless sampling efforts,” which make it painless for any customer who is stuck in their old drip ordering habits, to walk on the wild side for free.

It’s all part of the education process. “The bottom line,” Brown adds, “is to attract their attention with pictures and lots of fun, and surround them with samples. If you do this, cold drinks will play a huge role in your success.”

When it comes to coffee education, Mississippi’s Seattle Drip Coffee Company drive-thru franchise has probably overcome the most obstacles in working with the public to develop a love for cold specialty drinks. Although the concept of a drive-thru coffee house is relatively new in his region, owner Gary Slade and his franchisees have done an excellent job at introducing iced-espresso beverages to the south.

They attribute their rapid growth in the southern states to smart marketing and suggestive selling. Slade has seen “marked improvements in frappe and smoothie sales, due to Seattle Drip’s promotional poster campaign. The 16” x 20” four-color posters that greet customers daily at the point of sale to influence their buying decisions.”

Although not in place yet, their “soon-to-be-reconfigured” menu boards will also include pictures of signature drinks, only available at the Seattle Drip locations.

Gary agrees with most of the country, that marketing using “visual aids has been the number one factor in improved sales so far.”

It’s A Grind Coffee House has the southwest market cornered when it comes to cold drinks. According to Rick Kowalski, vice president of operations, the company’s cold drink category is a great source of growth and profits. “Cold drinks consistently represent from 15-25% of total sales, depending upon seasonality. Margins on these drinks are excellent because of the higher menu price.”

Although their top seller is the original “Iced Blended Mocha,” It’s A Grind keeps things fresh by offering a “limited time only” line of blended signature drinks that rotate every two months.

“The current drink is the Bavarian Cherry, and the May/June drink will be Coconut Crunch. We know that by creating and offering new and unique iced blended drinks, our customers position us as a place that is forging a new position in the coffee category. These creative and fresh flavors offer us an opportunity to provide the customer with a unique cold beverage that gives them a reason to return.”

It’s A Grind will also be putting more emphasis on iced tea this summer. “We offer a wonderful traditional iced tea, as well as a passion fruit flavor,” explains Kowalski. “Consumer interest and awareness of teas in general are on the rise, and we are looking to increase our frequency with emphasis on a refreshing iced tea.”

In the tropic temperatures of the southeast, cold drinks sell like hot cakes. The humidity and heat generate a different market than the cold northern regions, but the same profitable selling techniques seem to apply. Just talk to the crew at Ellianos Coffee Company, a Florida-based, family-owned franchise. Christa Pusateri, marketing director for the successful chain, commented, “At Ellianos, we include cold drinks in all of our promotions because they photograph well - and pictures sell.”

As an example, Pusateri explained that during the first three weeks of their recent spring promotion featuring Ellianos’ signature “Milan Mint Mocha Freeziano,” “sales for the ‘freezer’ version of the drink rose 46%, just by featuring it in our poster.”

Scott Stewart, owner of Ellianos realizes that cold drinks play an important role in diversifying their menu to fit their market. “Since our stores are located in Florida and Georgia, we have a cold iced or ‘freezer’ (blended) version of almost all of our drinks. In fact, almost 50% of our sales are from cold drinks.”

Sales of Cold Drinks Sizzle
Well, there you have it. As a business owner, you can’t afford to miss out on customized iced drinks this season.

Pusateri sums up this countrywide marketing trend perfectly, “The trick is finding a cold drink that is unique to your store, so that people can only get it from you. That is why we consistently promote our Ellianos Signature Creations. We get people wanting more, and they know they can only get an Ellianos Signature Creation at one of our franchised locations.”

Once you have your signature line-up in place, don’t skimp on your visual aids. Hire a professional photographer to create full-color pictures for your menus, posters, and flyers, persuading customers to buy. When you invest in your cold beverage menu as these experts have done, you’ll be able to sit back and enjoy added cold cash in the till this summer.

About The Author: Jeff Woods is sales manager for Dillanos Coffee Roasters in Sumner, Washington. Contact Jeff at jeffw@dillanos.com, or (1)(253) 826-1807.

Tea & Coffee - May/June, 2006

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