by Sue Gillerlain
seems that the Midwest is no longer the land of flavored coffees.
Snickerdoodle, Hazelnut, Vanilla, Dutch Chocolate and other Midwest
favorites are now being replaced with coffees of origin. As proof,
Vicki Wilson, president of Door County Coffee & Tea, a wholesale/retail
coffee operation based in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., says, "In our seven-year
history, our flavored business is actually significantly less. Darker
roasted varietal coffees are more in demand. Flavored coffees used
to be 70 percent of our wholesale business, but over a two-year period,
it's down to 50 percent. Overall our business is still growing, but
the mix has dramatically changed." Wilson adds, "To me, this signals
a more sophisticated Midwestern palette and I'm thrilled."
Wilson is not the only Midwestern coffee professional
noticing this trend. In a recent survey of Midwestern coffee retailers,
100 percent of respondents say their best-selling coffee is either
a single-origin coffee or a house blend, and not a flavored coffee.
Sumatran and Guatemalan coffees, roasted medium to dark, seem to be
the most requested single-origin coffees.
Cup sizes seem to gradually be getting larger
in the Midwest as well. Twelve-ounce cups are being replaced with
heftier 16-ounce sizes. Perhaps Dunkin' Donuts is on to something
with its new "The Great One," a 24-ounce cup of coffee. According
to the doughnut chain, Americans drink more than three cups of coffee
Walk down Chicago's celebrated Michigan Ave. on
any given morning and you'll see a sea of faces behind jumbo cups
of coffee from Starbucks, Seattle's Best or Cosi Coffee. The ubiquitous
grande-sized coffee cup has become as trendy as Chicagoans' cell phones.
Aside from single-origin coffees and house blends,
what's inside the Midwestern cup is typically an espresso-based mocha
drink. Seventy-two percent of survey respondents say their best-selling
espresso-based drink is a mocha followed by a latte. When it comes
to best-selling cold drinks, not surprisingly, iced mochas top the
All retailers surveyed also say they carry flavoring
syrups, and a whopping 86 percent state that their customers' favorite
flavor is vanilla, followed by hazelnut.
Chai Makes Its Mark in Midwest
has definitely caught on in the Midwest. When asked about tea, an
overwhelming number of retailers say their best-selling product is
chai, hot or iced.
Bill McSpadden, co-owner, along with his wife
Joyce, of Pacific Chai in Seabrook, Md., says the chai craze is not
even close to plateauing. "Number one, most gourmet coffee establishments
carry chai in one form or another now as a served product," he points
out. "It's got room to grow because they're just starting to move
it up more into the retail side and offer retail packaging, as well,
for consumers to take home." Chai, McSpadden suggests, is "one of
those beverages that everybody wants, they just didn't know they wanted
it. There is a huge segment of the population, at least in my opinion,
that's just not all that thrilled with coffee."
According to Larry Sommers, CEO of Santa Ana,
Calif.-based Nata'le Products, which includes a Mystic Chai division.chai's
popularity defies generally accepted geographical breakdowns. "You'd
be surprised," he says, "our largest customer for chai sales is in
Hawaii right now, of all places. After that, Minnesota takes over."
James Howard, owner of Noble Coffee and Tea, Noblesville,
Ind., says he sells between 20 and 25 chai drinks daily.
"We have what we call Cinnamon Chai," he says.
"It's a cross between a tea latte and a hot cocoa. It's non-fat and
it's real creamy. It has teas and spices, lots of cinnamon and quite
a bit of vanilla."
Howard concedes that he isn't a big fan of the
cinnamon drink's sensory qualities. "It's so rich and so sweet, it's
overpowering to me," he says. "But for every traditional chai we sell,
we sell 50 Cinnamon Chais."
Sit-Down or Grab-and-Go?
Midwesterners have been chided for bustling a little slower than their
coastal-dwelling counterparts, they aren't necessarily the sit-down
coffee consumers as one might assume. Survey respondents were split
down the middle with half grab-and-go and half sit-down customers
in their stores. Even Anodyne @ 43rd, a coffeehouse in Minneapolis
that prides itself on a stay-awhile atmosphere and even has a communal
table in the middle of its store, says 60 percent of its customers
prefer to sit down while 40 percent opt for grab-and-go service.
Though Midwesterners are on the go, their sense
of community is intense. David Bernick, owner of Riverview Café
in Minneapolis, says he lived on the West Coast for 15 years prior
to opening his Midwest coffeehouse and barely knew any neighbors.
Now he says he knows his entire neighborhood, even the junior set.
Bernick holds a children's reading hour every week in the playroom
he built for all of his little customers.
"Our customers are very interested in their neighborhood,"
he says. For that reason, Bernick hires most all of his workers from
the neighborhood and says he has had "zero turnover in the last three
"Our staff appreciates what the coffeehouse is
doing for their neighborhood and I think that gives them a sense of
pride to work here."
Theresa Lien, owner of Anodyne @ 43rd, agrees
with Bernick that Midwesterners have a strong sense of community.
She and her staff get their local community members involved in a
number of projects throughout the year, including "The Art Rules Project."
For the annual project, Anodyne supplies customers with 12-inch rulers.
Customers with a creative bent decorate the rulers in whatever inspirational
direction they are taken. The finished creations are then sold at
an auction held at the coffeehouse and the proceeds are donated to
the Center for the Performing Arts, an organization that provides
arts education scholarships to kids.
"We were stunned by the number of people that
contributed," says Anne Mayers, Anodyne's manager. "It was a very
successful community arts project."
What's for Breakfast?
are busiest for Midwest retailers, who say the morning shift gets
the best workout. But no matter what morning of the week it is, you
can bet that Midwesterners will be grabbing for scones or muffins.
The two staple breakfast items remain top-sellers according to survey
responses. Even so, pastry menus are expanding to include confections,
says Lien. She says she's noticing the influx of chocolates and other
confections in the Midwest coffeehouse. Perhaps that could be due
to the popularity of single-origin coffees, which pair well with fine
also says she is selling more and more warm desserts in her cafeoven-baked
apple crisps, cobblers and piesand is noticing this trend in
other Midwest coffeehouses as well.
While Midwesterners may not be trendsetters when
it comes to creating new menu items (e.g., chai, smoothies, bagels),
they are quick to jump on the bandwagon and add their own twists to
items to make them work in the communities they know and love so well.
Susan J. Gillerlain is editor of Specialty Coffee Retailer
magazine, a monthly business journal targeting the specialty coffee
industry. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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