Build Your Case


Editorial Policy

Published on

Last updated on

[A]s customers wait in line to order a morning latte, their eyes wander to a cold case of food near the register. Maybe they weren’t planning on buying more than coffee, but something catches their eye and they grab a snack or sandwich for later, essentially doubling the amount of their transaction. Jackpot!

Grab-and-go products can increase the average customer purchase without holding up the line or tying up your baristas.

“It is about capturing this incremental group of people who otherwise wouldn’t buy any food,” says Kate Flynn, cofounder and CEO of Sun & Swell Foods, which sells a line of snack and cookie bites and roasted nuts.

Here’s a look at options and strategies for building a case of popular grab-and-go products.


Many coffee shops offer pastries or breakfast sandwiches, so adding grab-and-go breakfast options can be a logical extension. This especially appeals to customers who don’t eat baked goods or can’t wait for a made-to-order breakfast.

Last year, Mylk Labs launched three flavors of vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO grab-and-go oatmeal cups, wholesaling to coffee shops and cafés as well as selling direct to consumers. The products have a shelf life of 12 months.

Mylk Labs oatmeal cups have no fillers, refined sugars, or artificial flavors.

“Normally it’s set out on the counter, you pour in hot water to cover the oats, and it’s ready to be sold,” says founder and CEO Grace Cheng. “A lot of cafés have implemented an extra fruit topping or an extra milk on top for extra flavor.”

Cheng adds that most cafés or coffee shops carry all three flavors, but there do seem to be regional variations in flavor preference.
“Our Roasted Hazelnut and Dominican Cacao does better on the East Coast,” she says. “Roasted Almond and Himalayan Pink Salt does better nationwide. Toasted Coconut and Cassia Cinnamon is really loved by people in San Diego.”

Cheng says Mylk Labs appeals to a trend-aware consumer who may not want the sugary, kid-oriented oatmeal cups already on the market.

“People are trying to be a little more health conscious, so [this is a] better-for-you type of option for people who would otherwise just get their coffee and go,” she says. “We want customers to spend the most for every single trip.”

In addition to oatmeal cups, breakfast tacos and yogurt parfaits also make good grab-and-go options. Seattle-based Espresso Vivace serves Sunrise breakfast tacos.

“They provided us with a steam table [to keep the tacos warm],” says Kasey Frix, the company’s general manager. “They deliver these great little breakfast tacos and a couple varieties of salsas that we keep chilled.”

Vivace has also carried products from Molly’s Grown to Eat for a couple of years. The company provides prepackaged food products to the Seattle and Portland, Oregon, areas. The typical shelf life for Molly’s products is five days, but that’s shorter at the establishments that use compostable containers. Co-owner Michelle Boline says Molly’s already offers a yogurt parfait made with locally made yogurts, but it plans to increase its breakfast options in the near future.

Molly’s breakfast sandwiches.

One of the selling points for Molly’s Grown to Eat is that they guarantee the sale to cafés that supply their products.

“While they’re purchasing our product and putting it on the shelf, if it doesn’t sell through, we credit them for the product and buy it back and donate it,” Boline explains. “They’re able to carry a really high-quality menu that they can feel good about.”

Immunity Boosters

Espresso Vivace also recently started carrying small bottles of immunity boost wellness shots from Vive Organic.

“They have things like ginger and turmeric, and especially this time of year people love that kind of stuff,” says Frix. “They’re always looking for ways to ward off bugs.”

Products like wellness shots or kefir shots do not take up much counter space and can bring in additional revenue.

Vive Organic wellness shots.

Premade Paninis & Wraps

At Fresh Flours Bakery & Café in Seattle, three types of premade paninis take the place of made-to-order sandwiches.

“We don’t have enough staff to make sandwiches, so paninis just made sense for us,” says owner Etsuko Minematsu. “We make our own bread and assemble sandwiches [in advance].”

Fresh Flours also carries prepackaged Japanese-style sandwiches from Sandwich House TRES in nearby Bellevue. “They’re very popular,” Minematsu adds.

Sandwich House TRES Japanese-style sandwiches.

At California-based Klatch Coffee, retail manager Holly Perry says they’re experimenting with premade wraps for people who want a heartier item between meals.

“It’s maybe not a full lunch but it’s something more than a snack box,” she says.

Molly’s also offers wraps, and Boline says they’re reformulating the menu to bring in more international flavors.

“You’ll start seeing from us things like Asian fusion-type of wraps, maybe a fattoush salad,” she says.

Savory Snacks

Coffee shops typically carry a selection of sweet muffins, cookies, or other baked goods, but they may not have as many savory options.

“There’s nothing for that mid-morning, late afternoon snack,” says David Scharfman, co-owner/general manager at Just the Cheese. “They’re missing out on the ability to connect with a customer who at 3pm wants a pick-me-up. You don’t want a muffin or a sandwich at 3pm.”

Just the Cheese. Photo by Mandy Cai

Just the Cheese aims to fill that gap. Their crunchy baked cheese bars are similar to a granola bar, contain eight grams of protein, and carry a nine-month shelf life.

“People like that it’s portable and durable,” says Scharfman. “If they come in the morning, they can take it for a snack for later. I have one in my glove compartment.”

He adds that the product appeals to cheese lovers, college students, and those who want a low-carb snack that isn’t pork rinds or nuts.

Specialty Products

Vegetarian, vegan (also called “plant-based,” to reduce some of the stigmas around a vegan diet), and gluten-free products are another trend in the grab-and-go space.

“More people are trying to stay away from dairy and gluten products,” says Cheng.

Cheng’s Mylk Labs and Flynn’s Sun & Swell Foods both serve this segment of the market.

Mylk Labs oatmeal cups are vegan and gluten-free.

“I found it particularly hard when I was traveling to find grab-and-go food that would fit my diet,” recalls Flynn. “I was always in a situation where if a coffee shop happened to have a banana, I would eat that, but otherwise, typically I couldn’t find anything I could eat in coffee shops or in airports. When we developed our products, we wanted this healthier on-the-go snack option.”

Sun & Swell’s snack and cookie bites and roasted nuts are vegan, kosher, gluten-free, and free from any added sugar. The main ingredients are fruits and nuts, and the products have a nine-month shelf life.

“We use really simple, clean ingredients,” says Flynn. “There’s
definitely been a trend towards clean-label products.”

Customers who are less health-conscious might still grab a bagel or a muffin, but her products cater to those who want an alternative.

“What we have found is that when coffee shops will bring our products or a product like ours in, it’s not replacing what somebody else would buy,” says Flynn. “It’s giving somebody who historically wouldn’t have bought anything in the store…something that they can buy.”

Sun & Swell Cookie Bites are free from any added sugar and have become a Fresh Cup staff favorite.

Branded Grab & Go Boxes

While many coffee shops purchase grab-and-go items from outside food vendors, Klatch Coffee assembles its own grab-and-go boxes with branded stickers.

“When someone is sitting at their desk later that day and they grab their snack, they are reminded of you,” says Perry.

Klatch’s boxes include a hummus box and protein box with a hard-boiled egg, almonds, and cheese. Many of these ingredients are things the company already has on hand, so they’re just packaging them in a new way.

“We do egg sandwiches, so eggs were something we already had,” says Perry. They make a nut milk in-house, so they already had almonds available. Klatch also sells a yogurt parfait using the house-made granola they sell separately.

Staff at each store assemble the boxes in the afternoons when things slow down.

“We have to have the people there to make sure the store is staffed, so this is what they’re doing during those downtimes,” Perry says. She says the hardest part of starting the branded products was finding the right packaging.

Perry cites the cost savings and branding opportunities of assembling grab-and-go items in-house, but it does require some extra work for staff, so some owners prefer to buy packaged food from outside vendors.

“The owner of Vivace is always like ‘I’m asking my staff to make the best coffee; I don’t want them having to toast a bagel,’” says Frix. “He wants us to stay focused on the coffee.”

Minematsu also strives for simplicity in Fresh Flours’ grab-and-go options.

Fresh Flours box of gorgeousness.

“I used to pick up salads from Pike Place Market twice a week and distribute to all our stores, but the logistics didn’t make sense,” she says. “We get items we can get delivered and that complement our customers’ needs.”

Still, whether buying from an outside vendor or packaging items in-house, grab-and-go products can help boost your bottom line and keep customers from going elsewhere for a snack or light meal.

Share This Article

Susan Johnston Taylor

Join 7,000+ coffee pros and get top stories, deals, and other industry goodies in your inbox each week.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Other Articles You May Like

Five Places, Five Operating Hours

Are you an all-day cafe, or do you close shop right after the morning rush? Learn how coffee shops choose their ideal operating hours for profitability, safety, and customer experience.
by Haley Greene | December 20, 2023

Survey Results: The 2023 Coffee Business Owner Salary Report

We surveyed owners of coffee shops and coffee roasting companies to learn how much business owners make in the coffee industry. Here’s what we found.
by Garrett Oden | September 13, 2023

At Clutch Coffee Bar, Drive-Thru Reigns Supreme

Drive-thrus can feel rushed and impersonal. But folks like Clutch Coffee Bar are reimagining the drive-thru model as a vehicle for fun, friendly, and fast customer experiences.
by Anne Mercer | September 1, 2023

How Technology Empowers Coffee Shops to Deliver Consistent Quality

Consistent coffee quality is the key to driving repeat customers. But consistency can be difficult to maintain without the right tools in your arsenal.
by Anne Mercer | July 14, 2023