Nov 13, 2012 (West Central Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Laura Ochsendorf, franchise owner of Dunn Bros. Coffee in Willmar, recently added a Provisions Bakery Cafe to the store.
Customers have been welcoming it, she said. "People are seeming to like the fresh high-quality food made here."
Her store is among the first Dunn Bros. franchises nationally to embrace the company's new concept of freshly prepared meals to go along with the daily staple of a cup of java.
Minnesota-based Dunn Bros., which has about 80 locations in nine states, launched a test of a fresh food menu at one of its Minneapolis locations last year.
Four more test locations were added by the end of 2011.
The pilot project was a success. The company reported this spring that all of the sites saw their food sales more than double.
The Provisions Bakery Cafe concept is now being rolled out in 12 to 15 more locations this year, including the store in Willmar.
The local Dunn Bros., which opened in April 2007, already had a limited food menu but the opening of Provisions gives customers considerably more options, Ochsendorf said.
"People were wanting more food and more choices," she said. "They don't want to have to stop at six places."
The newly expanded menu now includes items such as Danish pastries, egg and cheese breakfast biscuits, steak or turkey sandwiches, chef's salads and Sicilian-style pizza.
Like the Dunn Bros. signature coffee that's roasted on the premises, everything on the food menu is made from scratch daily, Ochsendorf said. "We're slicing our meat and our cheeses fresh every day."
Franchise owners who add a Provisions bakery are making an investment. For Ochsendorf, it meant some store renovations in order to add two ovens, a prep table and bakery cooling rack, plus training for the staff.
But the Dunn Bros. chain hopes the move will pay off in the highly competitive coffee business.
The coffee franchise industry in the U.S. is concentrated at the top, with the largest 50 companies accounting for 70 percent of sales. Collectively, U.S. coffee franchises earn $11 billion in annual sales.
Despite this crowded marketplace, there's room for companies to carve out a niche. Americans are still drinking coffee, even when economic times have been uncertain. According to market research by the National Coffee Association of USA, coffee consumption remained steady in 2009, through the worst of the recession, and it jumped by 7 percent from 2011 to 2012.
A drawback for many specialty coffee purveyors, though, has been a limited food menu. Customers might meet at the store for coffee, but when it's time for lunch they often end up going somewhere else, Ochsendorf said.
Enhancing the food selections is one of the strategies that companies such as Dunn Bros. are turning to in order to not only differentiate themselves in the marketplace but to respond to customer demand as well.
Business at the Dunn Bros. store on South First Street in Willmar has been strong and has been growing in the five years since the franchise opened, Ochsendorf said.
Her store, which offers free WiFi and has an outdoor dog-friendly patio, is well positioned to take advantage of continued commercial growth along the South First Street business corridor, she said.
Customers who saw the renovation taking place this summer and fall were "really excited" at the prospect of an expanded menu, Ochsendorf said, adding that word of mouth has been spreading.
She currently has 12 employees but anticipates that the store's projected boost in business may create additional jobs. "As we get busier, I'm probably going to have more people," she said.
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