Are c-stores winning the foodservice game? No—and yes
Rich Green has a lot on his plate: towering sandwiches, fiery burritos, a muffin brimming with molten dark chocolate. There’s a lot in his bowl, too: mounds of mashed potatoes, gravy, sausage, bacon and ham. Oh, and a biscuit. Yes, cheese too. Probably a chili sauce for some heat.
Adventure-themed Maverik has built its foodservice appeal on a program that’s “different from the food you may find in the typical convenience store,” says Green, the chain’s director of foodservice. “It’s a little spicier, edgier and more ethnic than you would expect.”
Lately, the 300-store Salt Lake City-based chain has set its sights on made to order. It’s talking customizable wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas with charred-to-a-blister crusts and freshly made street tacos with shredded meat and crumbled Mexican cheese. Its everyday customer already knows it for bold flavors and hearty portions, but Maverik wants to take its foodservice up a level. And it has the profits to propel it, growing foodservice same-store sales near and sometimes above double digits for the past three years.
“But it’s not enough,” Green says. “When customers consider us to be a food destination above all else, I’ll consider Maverik a successful foodservice establishment.”
Lunchtime at a Maverik convenience store
Scott Simon’s obsessed with his customers, too. He’s president and CEO of Broomall, Pa.-based Swiss Farms, a convenience drive-thru chain that’s making aggressive moves into a niche that’s more competitive with restaurants. The company has brought on a new executive chef to spearhead wide-ranging enhancements: wholesome dinner entrees, made-from-scratch items, on-site prep and customizable school lunches that appeal to kids and parents alike. Its latest target seeks to offset the competitive disruption from meal-kit companies.
“Swiss Farms Signature Meal Kits are next on the horizon,” says Simon. “When you preorder through a mail-service program, you have to think ahead for that order. But with us, all you have to do is drive through.
“We are successful because we always put our customer first,” Simon continues. “We don’t cook for ourselves.”
These are two c-store chains in very different markets, serving very different audiences. On one hand is the extreme-sports-themed concept with its towers of indulgence; the other, a neighborhood chain serving up meatloaf from the drive-thru.
Both are far from the catch-all menu of many c-stores and more like the concept-driven restaurant industry, with its “fast-casual burger” and “family-dining Italian” segments.
But their aims are the same: Focus on the customer, play to your strengths and keep your brand identity in focus—all while taking the calculated risks necessary to advance. They’re hustlers, keying into the foodservice opportunity the industry has been trying to bag for more than a decade.
But they’re also aspirational exceptions to the more realistic norm.
For years, the industry has been talking about foodservice as the magic bullet for growth. So are c-stores winning the foodservice game? No. And yes.
Turns out, it depends on how you define winning.