Quick-service restaurants are upgrading their coffee programs and preparing packaged products for sale in grocery stores in an effort to capture more of the $37-billion-a-year foodservice coffee market, as well as the $11.2 billion retail market.

This month, 1,800-unit Chick-fil-A rolled out a new custom-blended specialty coffee formulated to please customers’ palates — and their consciences.

Chick-fil-A is purchasing the coffee through the Thrive Farmers Coffee network, which connects buyers with farmers. Tracy Allen, Thrive’s chief coffee officer, said 75 cents of every dollar of coffee purchased goes directly to the farmers, rather than being spread out along the supply chain.

Allen developed the coffee’s flavor profile and is responsible for maintaining its consistency. He blended it to appeal to Chick-fil-A’s core 36-54-year-old customers, “and still not alienate those 18 to 34s,” he said.

The coffee has a blend of citric and malic acids, which lend brightness and body to the coffee, as opposed to carbonic acid in darker roasts that appeal to younger consumers and those in the western United States. It has a relatively light body — “on the first notch of medium-heavy,” Allen said — and flavor notes of cocoa, caramel and warm spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon. It also has floral notes of hibiscus, jasmine and honeysuckle.

“It’s just a good, round cup of coffee, a lighter roast than what you tend to get at multiunit stores,” Allen said.

Chick-fil-A has priced the coffee starting at $1.59 for hot coffee and $2.29 for cold-brewed iced coffee, made by slowly steeping ground coffee in water at room temperature.

While Chick-fil-A is improving the quality of its coffee, McDonald’s is increasing the availability of its brews.

The Oak Brook, Ill.-based company said it would start selling ground, whole-bean and single-serving packages of its coffee in retail outlets starting in early 2015.

McDonald’s has partnered with Kraft Food Group on the venture. A Kraft representative said the company was handling the manufacture, distribution, marketing and sale of the McCafé products.

Ground coffee will be available in 12-ounce bags in premium roast, breakfast blend, French roast, Colombian, premium roast decaf, French vanilla and hazelnut flavors. French roast whole-bean coffee also will be available. Single-cup portions of premium roast, French roast and decaf will be sold in retail outlets, McDonald’s said.

Coffee giants Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts fall between Chick-fil-A’s and McDonald’s strategies.

Dunkin’ Donuts has introduced a new packaged coffee in its locations that departs from its signature mild blend. The chain is marketing it as both a premium coffee and a socially conscious option. The new Colombian Packaged Coffee — Dunkin’ Donuts’ first single-origin packaged coffee — is a medium roast that the chain said has “a full-bodied flavor and sweet finish.” Thirty percent of the coffee beans used to make it are sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms, allowing it to carry the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal.

Dunkin’ Donuts typically sources beans from all over the world and combines them to create its signature smooth coffee.

The Colombian coffee is a limited-time offer, but Dunkin’ Donuts did not specify for how long.  

Meanwhile, Starbucks is introducing proprietary coffee from its own farm in Costa Rica.

“In September, we’ll be offering an extraordinary micro lot reserve coffee, the first coffee developed on our own farm in Costa Rica. Expect to see an expanding and evolving portfolio of proprietary coffees under the Reserve brand from our coffee farm in Costa Rica and around the world in the future,” chief executive Howard Schultz said during the Seattle-based operator’s most recent earnings call.

That is just Starbucks’ latest move in specialty coffee. The chain has long rotated premium proprietary blends and single-origin offerings.

Starbucks is also testing cold-brewed coffee in Boston, according to published reports.

Caribou Coffee introduced Creamy Cold Press coffee as a limited-time offer in June. The beverage is available in three flavors — Vanilla, Salted Caramel and Chocolate Almond — through Sept. 2, or while supplies last.

Krispy Kreme is also working to extend retail sales of its coffee by selling regular and decaffeinated blends in K-Cup packs at Krispy Kreme locations, grocery stores and online.

The Winston-Salem, N.C.-based chain’s regular coffee is a Latin American blend; its decaf combines Latin American and Sumatran beans. The coffees are available in 12-count and 24-count K-Cup packs.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com
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