How to Add Items to Your Menu: Part I

This is part one of a two part series. This article will focus on why you should introduce a new item to your customers. The next issue will give you tips on how to implement new products successfully.

So, you’ve received a sample of a new beverage from Stockton Graham and you like it. What next?

Introducing a new product, category or even seasonal offerings can be an excellent way to keep your customers and staff excited and engaged in the business. It’s an excellent way to allow them to depart from their ordinary routine and explore a new taste or experience while hopefully allowing the shop owner to increase the average order size and/or frequency of visits.  It is exciting for staff because they can engage more with the customers for increased satisfaction and, in many instances, increased tips.

These can cover a wide variety of items; it could be a new coffee, new specialty drink, a new technique, a limited time only seasonal offering or even a new entire product line.

However, while there are benefits to this strategy, it does not come without risk.  The risks of the customer not liking the change, increased operational costs or stale inventory are real and should be considered.  Additionally, there is staff training and motivation to make the change that will required for a successful launch.

Our customer care team recently received several calls on how to best introduce a new product.  We reviewed some of the experiences we had in operating our own retail stores as well as best practices we observed from customers and observations in non-specialty coffee retailers.

Why Introduce a New Product?
There are several reasons why you should introduce new products to your shop. For one, customer taste preferences change over time. For example, who would have imagined ten years ago that chai would be such a staple on café menus all over the country? Also, your customer demographics change over time. Population shifts, even in small towns, influence demand for certain menu items, both positively and negatively. Consumers have become more educated coffee drinkers. Have you noticed the demand for organic items surge in your cafe? Are customers asking you more questions about where your coffee comes from? Equate all of these to changing customer demos.

Another crucial reason would be one that might be more personal to you. Fortunately or unfortunately, your competitors are innovating all the time and while they might not be out for blood necessarily, the more opportunities they give people to come into their shop translates into fewer people coming into yours. It’s important to be ahead of the curve and plant your flag to establish your business as the destination for a unique new beverage or taste experience.

The Potential Pit Falls
There are pit falls that you need to be aware of before introducing new items to your menu. First of all, your staff has to be properly educated and trained on how to not only prepare the new item, but to sell it, too. A couple of years ago, Acai was a hot new flavor trend that we pushed with berry smoothies from Jet and Dr. Smoothie. Our associates fielded numerous calls from customers stating that while they had introduced an Acai smoothie to their menu, it wasn’t moving. We then responded with suggestions about training the staff to sample generously for feedback, educating them on the health benefits of the antioxidant-rich super food, requesting vendor point-of-sale etc. Sales of Acai-based smoothies subsequently increased dramatically. A store owner can’t simply wait for customers to notice a new item. They have to be made to want it.

Another obstacle in the implementation of menu additions is operational cost factors like potential new equipment and maintenance of inventory. We recommend that most new items be brought in with as minimal an operational cost as necessary. For example, you can create a unique signature drink by only adding one or two syrup flavors to your current inventory. Maybe you could create a drink with syrups you already have? We added Red Espresso to our line-up of allied products for this very reason. It’s a totally unique specialty beverage that requires no new equipment on your part. Just place the red tea in your espresso machine’s portafilter and pull a shot. No new equipment necessary.

The good news is that all of the pit falls can be covered and overcome with the proper preparation and planning.

The reasons for menu additions are numerous and varied, but for a community based coffeehouse, there is a real need to deliver handcrafted drinks to your customers. It is a distinguishing feature. Having the ability to innovate to meet the marketplace challenges and changes will keep you and your staff engaged and excited. Stay tuned to the next installment for how to introduce new products!

For any questions about why to add a new menu item, or what our latest product is, call us at 800.835.5943