Grab-And-Go Meal Solutions on the Rise at C-Stores

Five tips for upgrading your foodservice offerings


Brought to you by Core-Mark.

Americans consume a shocking 350 slices of pizza every second, according to a report from CNBC. It seems there is no end in sight for increase in consumer demand as pizza consumption is up 26%, according to Technomic’s 2016 Pizza report. This represents a huge opportunity for convenience stores looking to capitalize on the high-profit foodservice category.

What is the best pizza to offer? It has to deliver flavor and quality as well as consistency within the challenging constraints of the c-store environment.

“Consumers want pizza, but operators must be able to execute it properly,” says Richard Hunt, Corporate Director, Fresh and Foodservice—East at Core Mark International, Inc., which recently developed and introduced the Basilio’s Italian Style Pizza program by partnering with Orion Foods. This pizzeria-style pizza is made from scratch with premium ingredients and no preservatives. It arrives frozen, to be baked in store, allowing c-store operators with even minimal labor to offer fresh pizza by the slice or in whole pies to go.

Hunt offers tips for c-stores looking to add or upgrade pizza.

Focus on freshness and flavor

Of consumers who eat pizza in general, more than half say they order pizza from c-stores at least once a month, according to Technomic’s C-Store Marketbrief, Summer 2017. C-stores are competing with branded pizzerias for sales, and quality can mean the difference between winning a customer or losing a Food Service customer to competitors both in and outside of the channel.

Crust made from fresh dough balls, kneaded and double-proofed, produce the airiest dough. Butter in the dough can aid in browning, creating a deliciously crisp base for the pizza. Toppings such as sauce made from vine ripened California tomatoes and 100% natural Wisconsin mozzarella provide full, authentic flavor as well, and recyclable packaging is an added benefit.

“You want to provide a pizza that will appeal to someone who might stop in for fuel and otherwise go to a pizza place afterwards,” says Hunt.

Keep it simple

With labor getting more challenging, explains Hunt, it’s important to take as much complication out of the prep as possible. A program that can be executed quickly on a “plug-and-play” as-needed basis with just one or two employees in the store offers the best solution.

Eliminating as much labor as possible with a turnkey product that can be cooked from the frozen state helps cut down on waste and insures consistency. Profit margins exceeding 50% are possible in such a system, says Hunt.

Pay attention to merchandising

Packaging should be attractive enough to appeal to customers looking for retail grab-and-go, whether pizza is sold by the slice or whole, or behind the freezer or cooler door for take-and-bake.

“Branded packaging, heated displays and point-of-sale merchandising materials such as signage and countertop tents will help sell pizza,” explains Hunt. Branded kiosks are particularly eye-catching.

George Atallah, owner of George’s Mobil in Getzville, New York, deployed the Basilio’s Italian Style Pizza program at the start of the year as the cornerstone of a new foodservice initiative. Atallah says the three key points that attracted him to Basilio’s were product quality, ease of execution and branding.

“We are in the backyard of a major university. Customers are looking for a quality pizza. With the Basilio’s program I am able to provide quality in limited space and have a brand to attract new traffic in the store. We have been selling both slices and whole pies and the branded packaging helps.”

Flexibility is key

Pizza that can be cooked in a variety of different ovens, from small countertop units to an impinger, can be adapted to any setting and volume needs. Additionally, different formats of pizza are crucial. According to Technomic’s Summer 2017 Convenience Store Consumer MarketBrief, 35% of consumers want ready-to-eat pizza by the slice, while 29% want the whole pie. Less frequently, consumers want to take a pizza home to cook themselves—just 20% want frozen pizza, and 16% want a take-and-bake refrigerated pizza. In other words, retailers are better off ensuring they have pizza that’s baked onsite and ready to go.

Look for training support

Easy-to-use onsite training materials (including photographed step-by-step prep procedures and safety handling practices) help with success and also address employee turnover.

“A turnkey program that’s easy to execute and produces a fresh, scratch-quality pizza, will promote those all-important grab-and-go foodservice sales,” says Hunt.