Beverages: Local Connection

Published in FSD Update

Operators partner with nearby roasters for customized coffee programs.

Mass-produced coffee is falling out of favor, and fast. Now customers want local, sustainable options roasted fresh. So it’s no surprise many operators are partnering with local roasters. Take the University of Rochester, in New York, which has teamed up with three local roasters: one café partnered with Coffee Connection (a not-for-profit roaster that provides employment training for women in recovery from addiction), while its convenience store offers Joe Bean Fair Trade, organic coffee and another shop serves Finger Lakes Coffee. 

“Each vendor has its own focus,” says Andrea Vanpelt, assistant food service director with Aramark. “Coffee Connection is about the cause, rather than the coffee, while Joe Bean is very big into artisanal brewing, single sourcing and letting the coffee speak for itself. Finger Lakes Coffee is very popular in town, so we brought them on for the brand recognition.”

Not only do customers love the variety, but they also often prefer the taste of the coffee, she says. That’s something customers at WellSpan York Hospital can relate to. The hospital, in York, Pa., recently partnered with New Grounds Roasting Co. to supply 100% Arabica bean coffee. “I wanted to offer a better cup of coffee,” says Steven Ferguson, manager of food & nutrition services. “Serving locally roasted and freshly ground coffee would be an improvement over coffee that had been roasted who knows when, ground, packaged and in a box on a shelf for months.” 

The Valley Hospital, in New Jersey, joined forces with Barrie House Coffee and Garden State Gourmet for its drip coffees, which are roasted the same week as delivery. Not only do they offer dozens of different blends and flavors, but Steven Bressler, retail services manager, is also in talks with Garden State about creating a custom coffee brewed exclusively for the hospital to produce an additional revenue stream. 

Coffee challenges

“When you work with a small roaster, their challenges become your challenges,” says Vanpelt, who recommends choosing companies that have a strong business footing. 

Valley’s Bressler looks to good customer service. “We’ve only been able to sustain our 20-year partnership due to the excellent customer service we have received. [Find someone] who is willing to spend the time with your account, [like when impromptu deliveries are needed when demand is high].” 

Without hefty freight and delivery expenses, the cost decreases, though the beans can be more expensive with smaller roasters. That said, there are additional ways to increase sales with the local connection. Vanpelt and Ferguson bring in local roasters for samplings, brewing classes and coffee talks, while Bressler sends out hospitalwide emails about the Iced Coffee of the Week and the Flavor of the Day to boost interest.