4 C-Stores That Are Acting Like Restaurants

Aimee Harvey, Managing Editor, Technomic

Foodservice worker

CHICAGO -- What does it take to propel convenience-store foodservice into a truly competitive space with restaurants?

A great-tasting, high-quality menu is a must, but top-notch service, solid convenience attributes that squarely meet customer expectations for fast and easy meal solutions, and a brand identity built around freshness and variety are all crucial elements too.

All of that requires a singular focus and a major investment into c-store foodservice. Here are four retailers that are thinking like restaurants and taking foodservice programs to the next level …

1. Royal Farms

Royal Farms

Royal Farms piqued our interest during the fall holiday season when it took to the airwaves in Baltimore to promote catering options for Thanksgiving. Holiday meals from a convenience store? Yes -- for Royal Farms, it’s the next logical step for a chain that has already carved out a competitive niche with a three-day-part menu, anchored by its signature fried chicken. To strengthen the value equation around fried chicken, Royal Farms has also been promoting family-size meal deals at a special price, squaring off against chicken chains. It also keeps plenty of limited-time-only sandwiches and other items in the promotional rotation. 

2. Rutter's Farm Stores

Rutter's Farm Stores

Just this week, Rutter’s announced that all of its restaurant-management staff members will now wear chef’s coats, rather than the standard Rutter’s team members T-shirts.

What makes this so significant? First, Rutter’s says that it’s the first c-store in its competitive set to wear chef coats, apparel that signals a certain skill level in the kitchen. Second, it’s a unique visual element that speaks to the brand’s identity and commitment to foodservice. With the introduction of the coats, Rutter’s decided that “it’s time to kick it up a notch,” according to Ryan Krebs, director of foodservice for the chain.

3. Swiss Farms

Swiss Farms

Few c-store chains have been as busy with foodservice innovation as Swiss Farms. During the past few months alone, Swiss Farms has greatly enhanced its breakfast program with a slew of new breakfast sandwiches, paired with its signature coffee. A new director of fresh food has been brought into the fold, and along with him, a reinvigorated focus on variety, chef-created entrees and mix-and-match meal solutions. Coupled with the chain’s drive-thru service format, the revamped takeaway food options tell a compelling story around speed, quality and overall convenience.

4. Thorntons

Thorntons burrito

In mid-2016, Thorntons rolled out nearly 30 new-concept stores focused on updated foodservice platforms, from made-to-order to grab-and-go. New menu options include hand-rolled breakfast burritos, freshly made pizza sticks and soft pretzels. The grab-and-go service format allows guests to get in and get out in an average of three minutes.

"These stores redefine convenience and offer guests a distinctly elevated experience with quality food that is deliciously fresh and effortlessly fast, all within a real kitchen setting," the company said.

“We believe you should be able to get quality, quantity and convenience, all in one place,” said Tony Harris, president of Thorntons. “That’s why we’re going beyond gas and changing the perception of what convenience stores have to offer.”