An interview with Sanjiv Razdan, President
Despite the many challenges over the past 15 months, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf have continued to experience growth. With a full head of steam, the iconic California coffee brand is heading in a new direction. Industry veteran Sanjiv Razdan (former COO of Sweetgreen, Applebee’s, and Yum Brands) has just recently started as the new President of the Americas and Indian market. They have big plans of expansion for the company, so Sanjiv and I took a moment to discuss what got him interested in coffee and where he wants to take it.
Jake – Have you had any experience in coffee before? What interested you in it?
Sanjiv – No, no prior experience in the category. It’s always been fast and casual dining. I see some similarities where you are taking care of your guests and customers and an experience is your core offering. This is pretty common in all foodservice and that is where I feel very comfortable. There is something very unique about the coffee business and I am still learning the nuances of that. One thing I have observed is the kind of people that are attracted to work at a café, particularly our baristas and it is a wonderfully eclectic mix of creative, interesting passionate individuals that love coffee. They have a wonderful perspective and creativity in working with our guests and our menu. I have enjoyed this.
In the coffee category – the expectation of engagement from one’s barista is much higher than it is from a quick-service concept. Someone that goes to a café is looking for that engagement and personal attention. Even if it is only for a minute or a few seconds, it is a very important component of the experience.
We understand the barista interaction is critical to that experience. We put focus on our baristas through training, recognition, and empowering them. This is very important and very different from most quick service. A little escape through your beverage is a wonderful idea and the barista provides that.
Jake – That’s great. Having been a barista for years I can attest that it is a key difference. I guess that leads to the CBTL move toward increasing the omnichannel presence in the US. What is fueling this?
Sanjiv – Our vision is to be a coffee authority and be among the top two specialty coffee brands. We plan to achieve this through winning on taste.
Consumer habits have shifted over the past 18 months – there are two dimensions to this, one, people are looking for their favorite beverage delivered or through digital channels for order ahead, drive-thru, which is not new, but has completely taken off by way to consumer behavior. The more significant shift is the at-home consumption which has gone up significantly. The second dimension is the quality of coffee at home. The expectation is for a higher quality of beverage to enjoy at home. Coffee machines were on a waitlist during shutdowns and you couldn’t get a machine.
With that consumer shift, we are making sure CBTL can meet the needs of the consumer. We are providing digital access to our all channels. We are delivering now, post-mates, uber eats, door-dash plus our native app delivery. Order ahead for a grab-and-go occasion. We also have a significant number of drive-thru assets which has been huge. Simultaneously we have stepped up our e-commerce through our website for home or office consumption. Finally, we are pushing forward on grocery. When we say omnichannel we literally mean through the entire spectrum. We are trying to make this experience through any of these channels as frictionless and as engaging as possible.
Jake – Tell me about the plans for your retail strategy and growth.
Sanjiv – Our stores are our biggest form of customer acquisition. Our retail stores are temples to the brand and allow us to showcase our brand and product engagingly and we can help them find their flavor. We are working on ways to shift our asset design to reflect the changes in consumer demands. While we are evolving our retail design we are pushing forward in growing stores.
We are looking to grow in a franchise lead approach across the US. We want to grow in all 50 states. Of course, we have a focus on markets with two key elements; market size and propensity to our brand. The big markets are, of course, Texas, Florida, New York. We see great potential in Texas as our e-commerce sales are very strong and we see this as a great indication for our brand being well received.