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Coffee Shops Offer Snacking Opportunities for Onsite Foodservice

College campuses, workplaces and healthcare facilities see increased demand for casual, grab-and-go spaces where people can mingle.

Operators compete in takeout and delivery with technology, hospitality and menu innovation.
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After a year of social distancing and quarantining, workers gradually returning to their offices and students heading back to campuses will be eager to socialize.

Onsite coffee shops can play a big role in facilitating public gatherings—provided they offer the food and beverages customers are seeking. These casual venues, where people can grab a quick refreshment and interact with others, had been growing increasingly popular in noncommercial settings before the pandemic emptied workplaces and colleges and university campuses.

Now that consumers are returning to these settings, anecdotal evidence points to the likelihood that onsite coffee shop/café growth will resume as well. Part of the appeal of these venues is that they respond to consumers’ growing interest in snacking throughout the day. The 2020 State of Snacking report from Mondelez International, for example, found that 88% of consumers say they are snacking as much or more than they were before the pandemic, including 46% who say they are snacking more. Most consumers (64%) also say they expect the trend toward eating small snacks and fewer large meals to continue, and 58% say snacking will be part of their “new normal” after the pandemic.

On college and university campuses, the trend toward offering onsite coffee shops had already been gaining momentum before the pandemic, according to Datassential’s 2019 College & University Keynote Report. The report found that 37% of college and university foodservice operators cited sales increases at their on-campus coffee shops, compared with 9% who reported decreased traffic. In addition, 15% of these operators said they were considering adding coffee shops, and 59% of students who do not have a coffee shop on campus said they would like to have one.

This demand coincides with consumers’ increased interest in snacking. According to the Mondelez State of Snacking report, 69% of consumers say snacking helps get them through the day, 59% say snacks help get them through difficult situations, and 52% say snacking has been “a lifeline” for them during the pandemic.

While the Mondelez report found that millennials are the most likely to favor multiple small snacks over large meals, at 70%, Gen Z college students are also heavy snackers. The Datassential research found that students snack twice a day on average—almost as often as they eat traditional meals.

Rather than eating full meals, “students are snacking more and looking for things that they can grab on the go,” says Ann Golladay, group manager at Datassential.

The COVID-19 pandemic might be forcing some strategic changes among campus foodservice operators going forward, however, she says.

“In 2019, we had been seeing campuses ‘spread out’ their offerings in a physical sense—-they were opening up kiosks and coffee shops in every corner of campus to meet students where they were,” Golladay explains. “But the pandemic caused most campuses to shift to offering delivery. We are likely to see some consolidation of locations accompanied by increased access to delivery—perhaps by drones.”

Campus Snack Trends

According to research from foodservice operator Sodexo, several key trends had emerged in college students’ snacking behaviors before the pandemic:

Anytime snacking: More than eight in 10 consumers (81%) say they would like to have 24/7 access to healthful, convenient snacks. This presents opportunities for operators to leverage automation, delivery and app-based ordering to better serve students who may be seeking snacks at any time and any place.

Plant-based ingredients: Sodexo cited a trend toward protein alternatives in snacks, including cookies, cakes and ice cream. Opportunities abound for operators to leverage the ever-increasing variety of plant-based proteins that can be used in snacks beyond soy and nut proteins.

Hospital Snack Trends

Similar to students’ expectations of anytime, anywhere snack availability, hospital workers and vistors also increasingly seek convenient access to meals and snacks throughout the day, according to the 2021 Trends Report from Morrison Healthcare.

“Snacking is another area that is seeing large increases,” the report states. “Having snack options that are easy to grab-and-go, as well as nutritious, will be critical to serving patients, family and staff while instilling life-long wellness.”

The Office Coffee Shop

Office foodservice facilities also have recognized the value of offering cafés that serve coffee and snacks. Such onsite destinations not only keep workers in the building but also encourage interaction and networking among staff.

An onsite café in the new Milwaukee-based headquarters of online apparel marketing firm Wantable, for example, seeks to tap into the anytime snack trend with a limited menu that includes a few salads and sandwiches; bakery items such as brownies and muffins; some small-plate dishes, such as chilled crab and artichoke dip; and shareable items, including a cheese board and a hummus plate.

Beverages include traditional coffee and specialty coffee drinks like espresso and lattés, hot and iced teas, cocoa and branded bottled beverages.

“We focus more on small plates to get the employees down here during their breaks, have them share something and enjoy it,” says Jeffrey Reinbold, the local restaurateur who operates Wantable Café.

The café is open to the public, but food and beverages are free for Wantable employees—a perk that aims to encourage interaction within Wantable’s workforce. “We want to be a place not only for Wantable but for the community that gets people to think, to be creative, to be around other people who are also creative,” Reinbold explains.

At a time when many companies are encouraging employees to return to the office at least part time after months of working from home, perks such as onsite coffee shops where employees can relax, refresh and interact with others also can play a role in making workplaces more attractive, according to a recent article in Fast Company.

As consumers return to the workplace and students return to college and university campuses, noncommercial operators have opportunities to satisfy their growing demands for anytime snacking with casual coffee shops and other similar venues. Offerings could include grab-and-go snacks and small bites, shared snacks and appetizer-style items, as well as healthful options and globally inspired snacks that increasingly appeal to today’s consumers.

To learn more about pandemic-era operational pivots and trends that will likely continue well into 2021 as the world reopens, download Mondelēz International Foodservice’s 2021 Trends Report.

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