Food is the Way to Go'

Western Refining's Retail Divisionfinds success in Southwest Kitchen proprietary foodservice concept

Abbie Westra, Director, Editorial, CSP

TEMPE, Ariz. -- It didn't take long to realize they had a winner. In November 2009, Western Refining's Retail Divisionrolled out the Southwest Kitchen foodservice concept in 18 of its Giant convenience stores in Arizona. It did so well, they launched another seven in January.

"Our biggest thing was standardizing a really good-looking and professional menu board," Keith Kuells, category manager at the 152-store chain based in Tempe, Ariz., told CSP Daily News.

Kuells started working on the program in May 2009. "We also wanted to rationalize our menu to make [image-nocss] sure our highest-velocity items were on the menu with the actual product shot, and to make sure the margins on those items were what we wanted."

The program consists of regional specialties, such as green chile stew, a Frito pie wrap, chimichangas and a Navajo burgerwhich uses fry bread in place of a bun and is topped with a chili pepperas well as mainstays like corndogs and chicken strips. Everything is made on-site and held in warmers for grab-and-go convenience.

Western worked with foodservice broker Shamrock Foods, Phoenix, on developing the program. "They were pretty familiar with our demographic and what had sold well before in the area," Kuells said. "It was a great experience to be able to create some things for our menu that were tested by their chef." Those items included the Navajo burger and Frito pie wrap.

The first round of stores was chosen from locations with the best traffic patterns and a history of foodservice to avoid buying all new equipment. Determining what stores could commit to the program was also vital. "You might have a store that has high traffic, it might be in a great area, but if you don't have the right group managing that store, then the program would be destined to fail," said Mike Polo, director of marketing.

Four of the stores also have Hot Stuff Foods platforms, but "we do think that our menu is so different from a pizza menu that we can have both together and it's not going to conflict with each other," Kuells said.

Along with the tantalizing menu boards and food shots, Western has capitalized on the Southwest Kitchen concept for further branding opportunities. Jumbo Foods and Landshire Foods are both packaging sandwiches for the chain using the Southwest Kitchen motif, and some of their stores carry hamburger meat, chicken and other groceries with the Southwest Kitchen logo.

In 2010, the company plans to assess the sales data and return on investment to determine how best to continue the roll out. Regardless, Southwest Kitchen appears to be a part of that future.

"I think we truly believe that food is the way to go with the margins that we can generate," Kuells said.

Abbie Westra, CSP/Winsight By Abbie Westra, Director, Editorial, CSP
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