Hot Topic: Coffee becomes a compelling alternative in cinemas

Snack Corner

For decades, carbonated beverages have ruled the beverage channel in theatres. As times have changed, theatres have become something of a blend of foodservices rather than just serving concessions and snacks, including more versatile liquid offerings such as wine, craft beers, spirits and now hot beverages.

The emergence of fast-food and quick-service menus has positioned cinemas to become as much local eateries as a cinema scene. And craft beers and coffees have become artisan additions to retail foodservice in theatres. Therefore, it is only natural that the integration of hot beverages is beginning to find prominence alongside the adult-beverage sector and carbonated sodas. Baristas serving espresso have become a niche in cinema lobby spaces, now competing with sparkling sodas as liquid quenchers.

Typical coffee drinkers often feel a distinct relationship with their specialty brew. They seem to have an intense devotion and interest in specialized flavors and beans. Entrepreneurs and local businesses have recognized this passion for hot beverages and coffees and expanded their fare to include something more intimate than the retail coffee marts. What most people do not understand is that the highest-quality coffee takes time to brew; there is a clear correlation between time of formulation and distinction of flavor profile. The more time spent in the preparation process, the more rewarding the consumption experience. The trick is to create the handcrafted hot beverage in the same timespan as a soda in the theatre concession or coffee kiosk. And there are a few innovative manufacturers attempting to make that happen.

Mars Drinks, a division of Mars Chocolate, recently introduced its version of consumable hot beverages. The mechanism for producing such coffee concoctions is similar to the espresso machines seen in most Lavazza Shops—but quicker. The unique packaging sets this dispenser apart from the other “puck” type systems used in homes. Mars incorporates a liquid pouch that can combine the standard roasted essence with several other extracts to offer a complete line of vanilla, chocolates, caramels and others. Karen Mendenhall, account manager at Mars Drinks NA, says Mars Drinks offers a wide range of café favorites, providing choices for different generations that visit theatres, from Millennials to Baby Boomers. The Mars brewers offer the option of one drink at a time, including coffee, teas and a variety of selections including mochas, cappuccinos, lattes and iced beverages.

Tomas Budek, director of sales for Nespresso USA, a partner with Nestle, sees the coffee and hot beverage features in theatres as an added inducement for theatregoers. He highlights the fact that Nespresso can bring the same quality to theatres as offered in retail operations globally. “Incomparable coffee quality and taste coupled with a good movie is a recipe to transport the patron into the big screen. Nespresso is made from the finest one to two percent of the world’s coffee beans, while our bar pressures extract produces a golden-colored crema. This product supports over 70,000 farmers in 12 countries and insures you will only experience the best coffee.” Once again, this illustrates the confidence of coffee manufacturers that cinemas can extend their brands with pride and a diversity of selections.

In the shadows of the next wave of hot beverages is an item called Hotshot. Hotshot is the brainchild of Danny Glossfeld, who assimilated a method developed in Japan: hot coffee in a can. In Japan, this new coffee offering represents a $14 billion entity. Glossfeld uses the Japanese influence and concepts while perfecting his own degree of excellence in the taste of Black Arabica Coffee itself. The coffee is shelf-stable and defines the next generation of single-serve coffees. Glossfeld patented a thermal label wrap that protects the hands from a 140-degree temperature aluminum can. It has become the latest device to unite a penchant for high quality with speed of service. Since the variety of coffees and hot chocolates are already prepared and sealed in the can, the only requirement is warming the vessel that rests in a heating cabinet. When a patron asks for a coffee, the attendant is only required to pull the can from the cabinet and hand it to the patron. Talk about “grab and go.” Hotshot is the first ready-to-drink, pre-made, always-consistent hot coffee in the U.S. There is no waste, no preparation, no equipment services, no cleaning and it’s 100% sanitized.

Grossfeld first introduced the product on TV’s “Shark Tank,” where it received rave reviews. Recently, testing and sampling have taken place on the streets of New York City with kiosks and cart service for people on the go who don’t have time to wait for the brewing yet want a premium hot beverage. “Hot coffee has always been offered as a courtesy to patrons and has never really been considered a relevant sales driver at the concession counter, but Hotshot has changed all of that, not only increasing hot-beverage sales but as a ticket builder that increases the overall sales average,” Grossfeld reports. "With all that's offered at home through technology, getting patrons excited when going out is more challenging than ever. When going to a show, everything has to participate in the overall experience, including the foods and beverages. Hotshot offers something unique and gives a truly new experience to patrons, something they've never seen before. These are the little things that make an overall impression in someone's night out."

Larry Etter is senior VP at Malco Theatres and director of education at the National Association of Concessionaires.