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Coffee display units: there's been some changes made.

Gourmet coffee growth is evidenced by its ready accessibility in specialty shops, upscale grocery stores, kitchen shops, ice cream shops, frozen yogurt shops, and card shops. Different clientele, market segments, and menus but with a common denominator - wherever bulk gourmet coffee is sold, it must be stored and dispensed. A coffee's pedigree gets the attention in the specialty industry, but once coffee is poured into a storage unit, the pedigree cannot help retard stalage - but the storage unit can.

Although coffee display units were not widely visible until the gourmet coffee explosion, they have been around in one shape or another a long time. Otto Kind began producing metal coffee storage bins for retailers in Germany in the early 1990's, and according to Gordon McNeil, president of Equip for Coffee in Burlingame, CA, "the first bins had open tops, the metal ones now have a sliding top." Metal was not the only material used. Storage units have evolved from wood, metal line wood, metal and then acrylic.

Gordon is a big believer in metal storage bins over the new acrylic materials. "Metal doesn't corrode from flavorings, it keeps its looks longer, is durable and a metal material is less prone to affect the taste of the coffee." (A metal display unit would also seem to protect coffee from sunlight too.)

What about airtight? According to McNeil, "No dispenser is 100% airtight...air displaces the coffee as it is sold." Even if freshly roasted coffee was loaded into a airtight dispenser and naturally occurring [CO.sub.2] filled up any empty spaces in the dispenser, oxygen would be let in each time coffee was dispensed.

McNeil's company sells two models of brass display units that hold 22-24 pounds of coffee in metal bins with brass fronts, spring loaded coffee bean outlets and removable scoops. The models are top-loading with the glass display area separate from the bin. They are definitely majestic to look at and large...the bigger model is just over a foot wide and over two and a half feet tall. They are definitely display units.

What if a retailer wants to sell whole bean coffee but does not have room for a big display area? Many companies make small storage units that take up hardly any room at all. One type of unit is the Space Saver manufactured by Eastern Plastics in Concord, New Hampshire.

The Space Saver is acrylic, is only 16 inches square but has six compartments or coffee - three up and three down) sort of a "coffee condo" according to Irene Champagne, Eastern Plastics sales manager. "Depending on the type of roast, the top three spaces hold four to five pounds of coffee each and the bottom three hold ten to twelve pounds each." Forty-two to fifty-one pounds of coffee in a 16 sq. inch area is pretty efficient storage. (Plastic and acrylic are not interchangeable terms. Plastic is a broad category, acrylic is material specific.)

Irene does not consider acrylic a fragile material susceptible to damage from the coatings on flavored coffee beans. "From time to time we hear about a customer having trouble with some flavorings but not often." Eastern is however, testing a new material that will resist pocking. (Many flavor manufacturers, aware now that some flavorings corrode acrylic surfaces, are adjusting their formulas to alleviate this problem.)

According to Champagne, the life expectancy of a plastic unit depends on the roast color of the beans (dark roast coffee leaves residual oil causing the unit to yellow if it is not cleaned), the flavorings used, and maintenance of the units. Cleaning the units with warm soapy water helps as does keeping any abrasive materials away from the units.

A company that has taken display bins and elevated them almost to a work of art is Trade Fixtures in Little Rock, Arkansas. Lynn Rajewski, company vice president, says that although they keep six basic style of units in inventory, they do many variations of the basic line. "We do all of our cabinetry and acrylic forming in house so we do a lot of custom work. We ask our customers, |What is the look you are after? What do you want to accomplish? What is your budget? How many pounds of coffee do you want your storage unit to hold?'"

According to Rajewski, a thorough understanding of the customers objectives is needed to suggest the best unit for the each location. "Portion control bins are needed in supermarkets where spillage is a problem. Gravity feed bins are less expensive but it only takes one inquisitive child playing with a gravity feed bin to make a big messy pile of coffee beans on the floor."

Coffee kiosks have become popular and Trade Fixtures makes a completely round one that has a five foot radius. (The unit can also be set up as a semi-circle to be used as an endcap.) Although this Radius Coffee Merchandiser can hold up to 54 different coffees as well as two grinders, Rajewski says that most customers opt to have shelving to hold prepackaged coffee, mugs, filters and other accessories in place of some of the bins. The unit is attractive and does a good job of selling coffee. A gourmet and natural food North Miami Beach installed one of the units and increased their coffee business by 300%.

From metal to small to round, coffee storage bins come in all shapes, sizes and materials - even gallon sized, air tight glass jars with rubber gaskets do a good job. So how do you know which is the best choice for your needs?

Begin by knowing exactly what you want. How many different coffees do you want to inventory and how many pounds of each do you want to display at a time. Do you have merchandising materials or do you want to the display units to act as merchandisers also? Is the unit to be self-serve or not? Will the units be placed where children can reach them? Will you follow a cleaning and maintenance schedule? How much money do you want to spend? Do you have a place for a grinder or do you want grinder space included in the display units? These questions need to be answered before a display company can make suggestions.

After you have assembled this information, CALL AND ASK several companies about their products. Information about companies that make storage units is available to Specialty Coffee Association of America members and is listed in Ukers' as well as this trade magazine.

The quality of the storage containers effects the quality of the coffee. Poorly constructed storage containers allow the coffee to stale rapidly, effecting repeat sales with customers. Someone may unknowingly buy stale coffee once but they will not do it twice... and you can bet that the dissatisfied customers will not tell you, but will tell their friends. Pay proper attention to this critical element when setting up the operation and this nightmare will never be yours.

For further information, contact: Equip for Coffee, 8 Adrian Court, Burlingame, CA 94010, (415)259-7801; Eastern Plastics, P.O. Box 911, Concord, NH 03302-0911, (800)442-8585; Trade Fixtures, 1501 Westpark Drive, Suite #5, Little Rock, AR 72204.

Shea is a specialty coffee consultant and writer. She can be contacted at: Grounds For Discussion, 717 Pratt Avenue, P. 0. Box 10061, Huntsville, AL 35801, Tel/Fax (205)539-5237.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Sturdivant, Shea
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:Column
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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