Coffee in the fast lane: The rise of drive-through coffee

drive-through coffee

The drive-through coffee market is booming and an end-to-end solution from Container Concepts makes it easy and accessible to enter.

COVID-19 has changed many aspects of the coffee landscape, from the way cafés operate to how customers interact with them. Brett Bolwell, CEO of Barista Technology Australia, says people have grown more used to the speed, simplicity, and convenience of buying products and they expect the same from their coffee.

“COVID has shifted the dynamics of how we do things and one of the things that has absolutely boomed during COVID is drive-through coffee. People are time poor and want their coffee quickly. They don’t want to have to find a park, get out and walk to the café, then wait once they’re there. The drive-through is fast and gives the market what it wants,” Brett says.

“I’ve been talking with several major coffee chains and all of their predictions and market feedback says that, for 2022 and beyond, we’re going to continue to see huge growth in drive-through.”

Australia is often considered a trailblazer in the specialty coffee arena, but Brett suggests the drive-through is one area where the commercial coffee chains and markets like the United States and Europe are leading the charge.

“There’s a big focus on drive-through in the United States and Europe. Two massive American coffee chains, Dutch Bros and Caribou Coffee, have registered for initial public offerings on the stock exchange thanks to the growth of their businesses,” Brett says.

“Here in Australia, if you look at McDonald’s, Zaraffa’s, or any of the other leading coffee brands, you’ll see considerable volumes going out the drive-through window. At McDonald’s, drive-through accounts for 85 per cent of their coffee business – in some stores it’s more than 90 per cent. They’re even developing new concepts with a second or third additional drive-through lane to cater for the growth.” 

Many of the businesses interested in the drive-through market are also looking towards pop-up or mobile café solutions, like modified shipping containers, to take advantage of the flexibility and scalability they offer.

Brett says Barista Technology Australia was experiencing such high demand for its shipping container café fit-outs that it became necessary to launch them under their own brand umbrella, Container Concepts.

“We built Container Concepts based on key conversations we’ve had with global quick service restaurants who laid out their big drive-through plans for the next two to three years, as well as independent business owners looking to enter the market,” he says.

“We knew we needed to put this service together properly and spent the last 18 months building the brand, finding the right partners, and getting the designs right. We’re able to offer an end-to-end solution, with a complete in-house design service, compliance and certification testing, equipment fit-out and advice, training if required, and even offer assistance in finding sites.”

Barista Technology found building partners across Australia, from its home state of Queensland to New South Wales and as far as South and Western Australia. Victoria is the most recent state Container Concepts has extended its services to with Melbourne emerging from lockdown in late October.

A shipping container café can be set up practically anywhere, alongside easy-to-install drive-through point of sale and ordering systems. A business could even utilise several shipping containers to expand their offering. Brett says one of the advantages of working with Container Concepts for a drive-through concept is that it can custom build the coffee shop to meet the customer’s wishes.

“People might want a particularly style of drive-through, maybe with an additional shipping container for in-house or rooftop dining or dual lane capacity, and we can make pretty much any configuration work,” he says.

“One of the most practical elements of the shipping container model is that it’s easily upgradeable. You can begin with something small, like a single 20-foot container, then as you start selling more than 400 to 500 coffees per day, you can simply add a second unit to take your capacity to more than 1000 per day. In a traditional café setting, it’s just not possible to physically grow your business in the same way because of all the costs, rebuilds, and compliances you have to go through.”

Across the board, Brett says the shipping container café offers reduced costs and higher returns compared to conventional coffee shops, drive-throughs, and restaurants.

“At the end of the day, the coffee industry is about making money, and cafés are notoriously difficult to turn a profit because of high rental costs. If you find a good location in a carpark or main road facing area on private property, you can negotiate a short-term lease for a quarter the price of a typical rental space,” Brett says.

“Unlike investing in a rental space, you’re not nailed down. You can test the waters of that location and if it works, build a business there. But if the spot isn’t right, you can pick up and move somewhere else.”

Container Concepts also offers a faster speed to market, meaning business owners earn an earlier profit as well as a larger one compared to a brick-and-mortar store.

“For a typical drive-through store you’re investing at least $750,000 and one to two years of planning to get things underway,” Brett explains.

“We can work together with the customer to pick a design, then we’ll handle compliances, fixtures, and fitting, and have a completed unit ready for them to use within 12 to 14 weeks, which is really amazing when you think about it.”

While it’s the larger coffee chains that are leading the drive-through trend, Brett says this speed to market makes it a great solution for new business owners looking to get started in the coffee industry. It is then easy to either expand the current site or open new locations as the business grows.

“The bottom line is you’ve got a faster return on investment, so you’re going to make money much quicker,” Brett says.

“We’ve partnered with Buddy Capital and a few other companies to finance these container cafés, so people can source a full end-to-end solution with the equipment they need, from coffee and bar to soft serve and drive-through ordering.”

He adds the ability to set up a shipping container café in a high visibility and traffic area for a low cost is appealing to specialty coffee roasters and businesses looking to increase their exposure and brand recognition.

“Businesses are looking for a more profitable and scalable solution than what was available in the past. Traditional retails spaces were hit hard by COVID and have been slow to recover. At the same time, our buying habits have changed and we want things faster, but we still don’t want to compromise on the quality for that,” Brett says.

“When you combine the low costs, high capacity, and opportunity for growth in drive-through and container ship cafés, you’ve got all the factors of a successful coffee business.” 

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This article appears in the December 2021 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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