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Insiders say customization trend hot with coffee, tea drinkers

While the marketing catchphrase ‘Have it your way’ has its origins decades back with fast food burger chain Burger King, the concept today can also be applied to the evolving specialty coffee and tea beverages.

As menus at chains such as Starbucks and other specialty coffee and tea shops become increasingly flexible, consumers are becoming more aware of the many ways they can customize their brews.

This trend, gourmet insiders said, is a good thing for their businesses.

Several retailers noted that products such as French presses, frothing devices and infusion teamakers — all accessories designed to enhance and customize the flavors of traditional coffee beans and tea leaves — have seen spikes in sales during the past year and retailers are stocking their shelves
for 2015.

“We’re seeing a spike in craft-beverages, anything from beers to coffees to teas,” Susan Ball, owner of Zany Kitchen in Cheboygan, MI, told GOURMET INSIDER®. “People used to drink Lipton and call it a day. But there’s so much more available now and more specialty shops, so they have more choices.”

And more choices lead to more sales opportunities, she added.

As consumers buy loose leaf teas or exotic coffee beans from specialty shops or grocers in town, Ball has used the opportunity to build up her coffee and tea accessories category with items like teapots with built-in infusers from Norpro and French coffee presses from Oggi. She also carries these products in a wide range of colors and stocks dessert-flavored coffees, such as butterum and snickerdoodle, to inspire gift-giving sales.

KC Lapiana, owner of In the Kitchen in Pittsburgh, PA, has recognized similar trends as Ball. She has seen a spike in requests for French presses and pour-over coffee makers as more and more local restaurants use these products to customize their offerings.

Lapiana said her top pour-over coffeemaker is the Chemex, a wood-collar glass coffeemaker, and that unique and specialty products like this have helped lift the category as a whole.

“The coffeemaker business is up,” she said. “The espresso makers are up and we’re doing well with brands like DeLonghi, Jura and Krups. What’s down, however, is the Keurig. It’s not a specialty item anymore and sales are waning. We decided not to bring in the new 2.0 machine.”

Espresso makers have also been hot sellers during the past year for Holly Mangelsen, owner of The Cook’s Pantry in Rochester, MN, and the Acorn Pantry in Siren, WI. While Mangelsen recognizes that consumers enjoy espresso for its more natural and unfiltered brewing process compared to other roasts, she said that a sales bump — particularly with Nespresso machines — is also due to the product supplier’s increased marketing efforts.

“Nespresso does a really excellent job with their display units and offering samples, rebates and incentive programs,” she said. “We give out samples and also have ongoing demos in our store. Once people try it, they are blown away.”

Sales of espresso machines from Nespresso have also been strong at Bob Genrty’s Serve: Gourmet Gadgets and Goods in Austin, TX. He cited the product supplier’s consumer marketing efforts along with the machine’s simplicity and ease of use as key factors in the sales growth of Nespresso products at his store.

“We merchandise Nespresso right by the register,” Gentry said. “The convenience of having the VertuoLine, a machine that uses little pods, but can do both espresso and regular coffee, is a big plus.”

In addition to brew-making machines, Mangelsen has also seen sales growth in frothing devices. Six years ago she recalls her frothers — the Nespresso Aeroccino and the Jura Automatic Milk Steamer and Frother with prices ranging from $80 to $100 — sat on the shelf for about a year without any interest from consumers.

“Now they sell very fast,” she said. “People can more easily see the value in spending $80 for the ability to save money in the long term from always buying specialty drinks it from a coffee shop.”

Mangelsen, as well as Serve’s Gentry, have also seen a rise in accessories for tea. Mangelsen’s top tea accessories are teaballs in all shapes and sizes. “Cute” accessories, such as sugar tongs and demitasse spoons, are also hot items during fourth quarter as add-on gifts, she said.

For Gentry, a top seller in the tea category during the hot summer months in Texas is the flash chill teamaker from Takeya.

“Customers like the fact they can add their own fruit and infuse the beverage as well,” he said. “The product also comes with nice packaging that explains the infusion process. That makes it an easy sell.”

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