From fellowship to ministry-supporting revenue potential, there are lots of reasons to consider a church café.
By Jim Wendt
To set the stage for this new series, our team surveyed dozens of church café managers, as well as the specialty beverage experts at Kerry, a global leader in food and beverage products and technologies.
Praise the latte
It helps to first understand the café landscape and marketplace.
- Long gone are the days of simply ordering a cup of coffee. Consumers want greater variety, flavors and options than ever before. Today, latte and frappe menu items far exceed coffee options.
- People are seeking out healthier alternatives to coffee. The increasing variety of formats and flavors in the U.S. market attract younger consumers.
- More consumers are seeking out coffeehouse treats. This trend supports the 16.5-percent growth in coffeehouse sales from 2008 to 2013, which reached $28 billion in annual sales!
- Forward-thinking churches have adopted these trends, offering everything from coffeehouse drink stands to fully constructed and branded cafés on church premises.
Focus on: church café operators
In an effort to better understand our church customers, we surveyed dozens of church café operators. Here’s what we found:
- Nearly one-third (27 percent) of their cafés have been open for two years or less. The rest have been in operation between three and six years.
- More than 70 percent serve lattes, blended frappes, blended ice coffees, coffee and hot teas.
- More and more are expanding their beverage offerings to appeal to consumers’ broader tastes: 56 percent now serve chai tea lattes and fruit smoothies; 50 percent offer iced teas; and 27 percent offer lemonades.
- Only 13 percent offer Sunday-only beverage service; 69 percent open their cafés in conjunction with other weekly events and activities. And, 19 percent — mostly in larger houses of worship — are open every day.
Driven by community and fellowship
We asked church café operators a critical question: Why do you offer café-style beverages at your church? The vast majority (82 percent) said that creating a pleasant atmosphere for parishioners was very important or critical. Additionally, encouraging young people to attend was a primary consideration for 93 percent. But — with a 100-percent response rate — the overwhelming motivation was to encourage fellowship and a sense of community.
What about planning?
Beverage product selection topped most respondents’ lists when planning their church cafés. It’s no wonder, then, that these forward-thinking church cafés offer so many drink options.
The old adage “location, location, location!” rings true, too; 81 percent said the café location was very important or critical to its success. Most (75 percent) picked locations where a large number of people could gather, and 44 percent chose locations that were previously underused.
Additionally, 100 percent of respondents were concerned about resources, and 94 percent considered costs to run the café. Electricity availability (to operate blenders and other equipment) and proximity to a kitchen or back office area also weighed in.
Keeping operational costs in check, 93 percent say they use volunteers to man barista stations. Others (20 percent) pay support staff. Others (7 percent) use existing church staffers to help with the administrative tasks for purchasing and setup.
According to our survey, the average cost of a specialty drink — to the church — ranges from $.30 to $1.75. To the customer, specialty drink prices ranged from $3 to $4; so, church cafés can generate $1.25 to $3.70 per drink. This can add up quickly: respondents serve 100 to 1,000 drinks per week! That’s a monthly revenue increase between $500 and $16,000 — vital funds for supporting existing ministries or funding new ones.
No barista needed
When asked to rank their selection criteria for specialty beverage products, church café operators cited flavor and taste as No. 1.
Food safety concerns (which make recognized brands preferred) are also very important, followed by customer service — especially, accurate and fast shipping (before-Sunday delivery) and the ease of purchasing online.
Preparation weighed in heavily, too. “Many churches like the ‘just add water’ approach to making gourmet drinks,” explains Levi Andersen, Kerry’s Beverage Specialist and former coffeehouse owner. “[Churches] like beverage mixes from brands like Big Train and DaVinci Gourmet, because anyone can learn quickly, including church volunteers.”
And, for Karen Maitoza, who represents Summit Christian Church in Sparks, NV, the types of products she likes to purchase come down to a few key criteria: “shelf-stable; no refrigeration space needed.”
Easy preparation is also important for large-scale events such as pancake fundraisers and church-wide breakfasts. To this end, Goldendipt — a brand with a 50-year history — offers churches a wide variety of baked good mixes in large-quantity bulk bags: gourmet pancakes, waffles and more.
All in a name
Creating a brand name can create some excitement and intrigue while keeping parishioners coming back. Respondents shared some of their own cafés’ clever names, including:
- Intersection Café at New Castle Bible Church (Mackinaw, IL)
- Crosswalk Café at Central Church (Collierville, TN)
- Grace Café at Grace Christian Church (Sterling Heights, MI)
What do they all have in common? A focus on fellowship and faith.
Whatever you end up naming your café, focus on building a great gathering place where a growing population of drink enthusiasts will want to congregate. Select easy-to-make products your volunteers can quickly master. And, pick diverse products — that taste great — to keep the fellowship strong.
Jim Wendt has more than 20 years of experience in marketing, sales and business development. He is the eCommerce Marketing Manager at Kerry, responsible for digital marketing for Kerry’s North American Food and Beverage Brands, including Big Train, DaVinci Gourmet, Oregon Chai, Goldendipt (griddle, baked goods, batters and coatings products) and Golden Ladle (soups and culinary sauces).