SAN MATEO, Calif. -- At Draeger's Marketplace here, customers are being treated to the freshest coffee beans available courtesy of the chain's new in-store roasting system.
The three-unit independent was searching for something unique that would differentiate it from the competition, and add a new level of service to customers. They found it in a new coffee roasting system which allows them to roast fresh green coffee beans on-site.
"The roaster really creates excitement in the store," said Rebecca Draeger, vice president and bakery buyer for the chain. "Our customers have already shown quite an interest and are asking a lot of questions."
Draeger's has positioned the roaster in the front area of a U-shaped department that houses items such as candy, chocolates, gelato, refrigerated desserts and various other bakery items. There is also seating in this area, prompting customers to grab a cup of coffee and a snack and rest for a few minutes.
"It's just a great location because the customers can sample the coffee by the cup, and see the machine that roasted the beans right in front of them," Draeger continued. "They recognize the freshness and that is a great selling point."
The roaster is manufactured by Petaluma, Calif.-based Fresh Roast Systems and has provided a notable change in the way Draeger's sources and sells its coffee program. Fresh Roast officials pointed out several factors that have prevented traditional supermarkets from fresh-roasting beans.
First, a typical roasting system requires a roasting specialist, or roastmaster, to operate the machine itself. In this case, Fresh Roast initially staffs each machine with a roastmaster who will train store associates to take over its operation.
There is also the issue of cost. Draeger's leased their machine for a deposit of approximately $5000, refundable if the store opts not to keep the system. Likewise, traditional roasting equipment must be properly ventilated, and changing the store's physical facility to install ceiling exhaust can be expensive.
The Fresh Roast System used at Draeger's is a self-contained, ventless system which does not require special ceiling vents or infrastructural alterations of any kind. It has the ability to actually clean the roasting air internally, scrubbing and cooling the air before returning it to the environment, thus allowing for it's ventless construction.
The roaster also features a reflectometer, or "roasting eye" which monitors color development inside the drum during the roasting process, producing beans which are evenly browned. The machine can store up to 15 varieties of unroasted coffee beans and functions according to a fully automated daily roasting schedule. Operators utilize proprietary software and process controls to preprogram a roasting schedule that complies with projected demand.
Draeger's officials say that the system is capable of more than just providing an in-store service. It is also an effective merchandiser for building sales. The one machine is housed at the coffee bar inside its San Mateo location, where sales have already begun to rise. Draeger said that, while it is too early for official results, she estimates the new system has driven coffee bar profits up about 5%.
"One of the special qualities about Fresh Roast is that they will create a coffee blend to match your current selections so that the transition to their product is easy for the customers," she said. "We began switching just a few coffees and then eventually switched our entire line."
According to Hollie Webster, director of marketing and public relations for Fresh Roast, the company acts as a bean source to its customers -- "providing a turnkey operation, allowing [them] to purchase any green bean available on the market."
"The whole concept is to provide a customized program depending on individual retailer needs," said Webster.
She added that Draeger's was the first supermarket to carry one of their roasters, but that Seattle-based Larry's Markets signed on soon after. Larry's is currently carrying roasters at three of their five locations, with two more machines to be added to the final two stores shortly.
"We wanted to sample two different operational environments as a testing period," continued Webster. "Draeger's provided a setting with one central roaster serving multiple stores and Larry's leased a roaster for each of its locations. We have heard successful reports from each chain."
During this site-testing period, Draeger's and Larry's are paying the market price for green coffee beans plus an additional roasting fee of $2 per pound, which Draeger said is substantially less than the purchase of preroasted beans.