Frozen-Yogurt Revival

Segment resurgence a win for c-store impulse sales.

Abbie Westra, Director, Editorial, CSP

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FastLane is building awareness through daily specials, including Fill-A-Cone for $2 on Tuesdays and free pints with a $10 purchase on Saturdays. (It sells pints to help offset waste.)  FastLane and Swirls n Sweets work together by offering Fro-Yo and Fuel Friday. The fuel customer gets a 20% discount at Swirls n Sweets on Friday when they bring in their fuel receipt. Swirls n Sweets is also part of the chain’s loyalty program, in which customers get KickBack points for purchases that can be redeemed at either location. 

On its busy Facebook page (where it’s clocked in nearly 1,000 fans), Swirls N Sweets is promoting a new birthday party package: For $45, a customer receives a large pizza, fountain drinks, frozen yogurt, candy bags and balloons for eight people, as well as service from a “party hostess.”

“Actively promoting frozen yogurt in c-stores plays a vital role in attracting new customers, resulting in repeat visits and increased check averages,” says Patricia Bennett, senior director of global marketing for Rockton, Ill.-based Taylor Co., which manufactures frozen-yogurt machines along with other foodservice equipment.

“As customer demand for healthier foodservice offerings and speed of service increases, store operators are creating new ways to differentiate themselves from other foodservice establishments,” says Bennett. “Increasingly, they’re turning to us as a way to meet that demand while also growing store traffic.”

The Right Stuff

Before creating engaging promotions and sending staffers to the pumps with samples, retailers must analyze their space and make the proper purchasing and operational decisions.

  • Customers and competition. Take note of your competitive landscape and the store demographics. Will frozen yogurt be a differentiator, or is it so different for your market that consumers won’t be interested?
  • Space allocation. Understand your desired layout, be it in a new store or an existing location. New builds allow you to plan space accordingly, while adding frozen yogurt to an existing location may be an opportunity to get rid of a low-performing offering. Pay close attention to where in the store you place the program. As close to the checkout as possible is ideal because it is more likely to be noticed by customers and it allows employees to keep a close eye on it. But even if you position it deep in the store near the fountain, proper signage—from the pump to the doors to the checkout—is critical.
  • Equipment and product.  A good equipment manufacturer should help you understand the capacity and number of units needed based on projected volumes. Choosing a piece of equipment will also depend on the type of product you use, be it ready-to-dispense frozen yogurt, or powders that require a little extra labor. “Knowledge is everything when it comes to these machines. Not that they’re temperamental, but things happen,” says Wacker of FastLane. She recalls one day in which something on a machine wasn’t properly closed, which locked up all the machines and ruined the day’s product. While the number of units you need and the capacity per machine will depend on your own store traffic, success will be determined by how it holds up to traffic volumes. You want each cup to be consistent in temperature and texture. “Choose a model that can consistently produce quality products, draw after draw—even during your busiest day-parts,” says Bennett.
  • Labor. As with any fresh-food offering, TLC from employees is critical for both promotion and maintenance of the program. Team members need to be properly trained on cleaning the equipment as well as keeping the area clean and appetizing. “It’s about training and creating awareness,” says Wacker. The stand-alone Swirls n Sweets location naturally has dedicated staff, and the chain is ensuring that all c-store employees are cross-trained for the in-store location.
  • Price point. Finding the right price point may be a sticky proposition for convenience retailers, says Tristano of Technomic. The frozen-yogurt consumer is used to paying upwards of $6 for a sweet treat—but with that higher price point comes an elevated experience. Value-pricing frozen yogurt may hurt the quality perception, but with a higher price point must actually come a high-quality experience, which includes cleanliness, product quality and unique, modern branding.

The biggest surprises for both Wacker and Clements have been related to customer perception and education. “Many of our customers have not been in yogurt shops and are not familiar with pay-by-the-weight,” says Clements. “So there has been a little bit of a learning curve with that.” They alleviated the problem by sending employees over to explain the process while the customer prepares his or her yogurt.  “Our price is clearly posted, but there have been instances where customers thought the entire cup was 39 cents.”

At FastLane, “We opened with just one size cup (20 ounces) and we had to bring a smaller cup by customer request—even though it is self-serve and the customer determines the amount ... they want,” says Wacker. “I think it was just a visual perception, but we listened to our customers and took action.”

Another benefit c-stores have over traditional frozen-yogurt concepts is the potential to grow check averages. Once the offering evolves from impulse to destination, retailers can use it to leverage other foodservice items and more.

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