Coffee Service Corner – an Interview with Mike Tompkins

Mike Tompkins is a renowned expert in the Coffee Service Industry whom I have had the pleasure of knowing for many years. In addition to his international consulting business, Coffee Products Associates, Mike has been a familiar face at NAMA’s trade shows, developing and presenting educational material around all aspects of our favorite beverage, coffee.

KS: As I interact with groups and associations such as IBWA and Blind Merchants Association as well as independent vending companies looking to grow their OCS business, top to bottom coffee service education is being sought by many. How is your approach and content evolving through your valuable educational work at NAMA?

MT: When Larry Eils and I first attempted to pick up the stitches of NCSA coffee education from Leo Fante, we focused primarily on the basics of coffee brewing that Leo and I had both learned at SCAA. I expanded the curriculum to include a very general overview of four links in the global coffee supply chain, and Folgers’ sponsorship enabled Dean Gilland, Roger Stewart and I to execute the QCCP concept for NAMA. Then I added four coffee sensory exercises to the program in an attempt to give equal access to everyone who wants to learn how to share a deeper understanding and enthusiasm for what makes coffee such a great cultural necessity. Finally, I have attempted to squeeze all that into a four hour presentation, so that anyone can succeed and wear their NAMA Certified Coffee Specialist designation with justifiable pride.

KS: In your interaction with operators, what is being reported about the direction of single cup brewer placements, both brew-by-pack and the hopper based systems?

MT: The migration from proprietary capsule systems to open systems is already maturing. However, many service companies have continued to leverage their market shares to build mutually beneficial proprietary and co-branded programs relationships with international brands. We have also seen growth in high volume single-cup systems that deliver liquid coffee concentrate in combination with solubles to add value where the fastest volume is essential to food service. However, if our estimation of bean-to-cup market penetration is at all close, that platform represents the fastest growing segment of coffee delivery systems this past year. It may appear to some that grinding whole coffee beans to make one cup of fresh coffee is some kind of new phenomenon, but it appears to me that Starbucks and other market movers have intelligently adapted the ingenious technology invented 1965 by Alan King in Montreal and developed by Filterfresh for the world over the decades since.

KS: I had the pleasure of being introduced to Shogo Yoshida and Jeff Knapp of Fuji Electric recently. I was interested in hearing of their efforts to enter the U.S. market with their bean-to-cup brewers. Can you share their experience abroad?

MT: Fuji Electric Company, Ltd, which is headquartered in Tokyo, has a long history of supplying coffee and other beverage vending machines, and they are now participating in the North American market. Their capacity to engineer and manufacture bean-to-cup coffee systems is impressive. But when you consider that Fuji Electric globally employs 26,000 people in an impressively diversified array of industries, and that their food service division controls a fair amount of the vending machine market in Japan and China, you can imagine their potential to scale well beyond their first effort in coffee systems.

KS: Considering Fuji Electric’s Food and Beverage Division’s success in the Japanese and other Asian markets, Is their primary target market in America within the OCS industry or beyond?

MT: The folks I have met at Fuji Electric are well versed in the cultural differences between various global markets. Although they are already well established as suppliers of industrial power generation equipment in North America, they are diligently pursuing a clear understanding of the food service markets in the Americas in order to adapt their engineering and manufacturing capacity for sales and service of food service systems here.  So my opinion is, “Yes,” OCS initially, because adaptation of bean-to-cup systems has already begun in this market; and “Yes,” beyond as coffee roasting companies and service operators morph the currently narrow adaptation to meet the needs of other market segments like micro-markets, managed food service, convenience stores and eventually (possibly) retail coffee stores. But that is only my opinion.

KS: From a bean to cup machine brewing technology perspective, what is the biggest impact factor on beverage quality?

MT: Although I take my coffee-geek status seriously, I am much more interested in a remark I heard recently from Corporate Coffee Systems’ CEO David Henchel, “It’s all well and good to talk coffee science, but our customers don’t know extraction percentage from concentration or any of that. So, we have decided that a new bean-to-cup system must make a “material difference” in our customer’s perception of the flavor of our coffee.” A material difference. What an opportunity for local coffee roasters who are already making a material difference in coffee culture. Local roaster/retailers like Starbucks and Peets began years ago disrupting the distribution relationships of established brands by initially creating strong local followings for their coffee preparation techniques. Now a third wave of fanatical coffee roasters evangelizes their devotees by lovingly preparing their carefully selected, craft-roasted coffees. So proud are they of their devotion to perfection that many will not even talk to an OCS operator, having settled decidedly that we cannot love their coffee like they love their coffee. So, it seems to me, that a greatly material difference might be accomplished by enabling the satisfaction of these high standards with a truly proficient delivery system. That requires demonstrable consistency, and measurable consistency will be the benchmark for automated coffee systems.

KS: For today’s progressive operators, what are you seeing outside of the coffee category creating expanded opportunities to “build the ticket”?

MT: Employment showcases like Google, Apple and Microsoft are no longer found only on the west coast. Amazon and others will need to attract and hold tens of thousands of new employees across the country with benefits not yet explored in many parts of the county. But they will probably use the west coast model of indulgence for healthy and hip authenticity in food items. And new coffees, too!

KS: To your point, there will be some new snack and drink product presentation options for the office being shown at CTW in Dallas.

Mike, I appreciate the time you have taken to share your thoughts with me and our CoffeeTalk readership.

Until next time – Ken

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