Sean Miller, category sales manager of fresh food and coffee, started at QuikTrip as a 16-year-old looking for a part-time job in St. Louis. He has worked various positions in the stores and in the Dallas division office before being brought into the corporate office in Tulsa, Okla., to work in the sales department. For the past seven years he has been in his current position. He marks 20 years at the company in August.

What’s new and exciting in your category?
Over the past two years, going until August 2022, we have been remodeling our kitchens not only to allow us to sell more tacos and barbecue meat but to help us with efficiencies. The constant battle today is Covid and how do you help store employees with efficiencies, because they’re the ones out there doing all the work. My job is to arm the store employees with every opportunity to be successful, so over this past year we’ve remodeled our kitchens. We feel that’s going to help them be more efficient and deliver a fresh product to the consumer. We’ve added new equipment that allows the operation to be more automated. We also have updated our warmers to have a larger capacity and to keep product fresher longer.

Any recent changes to how you’re displaying products in your stores?
We’ve upgraded our warmers. They used to be two little three-tier warmers that were on countertops. We’ve changed to a floor-to-fifth-shelf-type warmer that increases capacity. It has a new, clean, fresh look to it. We made this change because it does a better job keeping food fresh. As you know, the food industry has shifted pretty substantially, allowing us to compete with some of the big QSR players. We also obviously compete against our brothers and sisters in the other c-store markets. Food has taken on a big role from the convenience-store aspect of things. Our goal was to display and offer the freshest, most efficient food we can get out there.

What do you love about your category?
I love the fact that you always have to innovate and come up with the next greatest food offer. Food’s fun and exciting. Unlike your traditional c-store items, snacks, candy, bottle and can, food allows us to follow many trends in the restaurant industry, QSRs and, obviously, c-stores. And it’s just fun to be out there on the front end of all the fun and excitement of what food has to offer.

What is the biggest frustration?
I know we’re sitting here in 2022, but we’re still battling with supply chain issues. Call it what you want to call it, Covid’s not over yet, and we’re still struggling with securing suppliers that can have products show up, whether through distribution or the vendor itself. We’ve done a pretty strong job of representing and have had little to no issues of running out of items in kitchens and throughout the stores.

How did the pandemic change your category?
The pandemic helped us realize that you’re never in the safe zone with supply. You have to surround yourself with vendors that have contingency plans and/or support yourself with more than one vendor of a spec on a product that you carry, whether that be macaroni and cheese or hot dogs. We like to try to keep ourselves set up with a contingency plan in case one of the vendors cannot supply us. Always have a backup plan, whether that’s our supplier having a contingency plan or us having a secondary supplier for certain products.

What trends are you watching?
We’re always trying to see how our competitors in the food industry are moving and try to be on the front edge of any new and innovative product. We feel like right now our niche is the tacos and barbecue. We’re referring to our remodel in the kitchen as a “kitchen expansion remodel,” and it helps us be more efficient and develop and deliver a high-quality product. This remodel is everything: How it’s presented and what methods we’re using to cook it. Our goal is to get the product to the consumer and make sure we deliver a fresh, high-quality product while also eliminating all the steps that are needed in the kitchen. So, we’ve revamped our kitchen to reduce steps to get products done. We’ve moved product around within the kitchen. We’ve upgraded equipment to help us be more efficient, whether that’s an oven in the back to the warmer in the front.

What products performed well in the past year?
We’ve felt like we’ve done a great job throughout our entire kitchen category. We haven’t missed a beat. Our store employees are rock stars when it comes to getting product out to the consumers, showing up and making sure that they’re delivering that experience to every customer.

What are your goals for 2022?
Goals for 2022 would be to continue to elevate and become efficient. Obviously, in this day and age, when labor’s a struggle, efficiency seems to be a key point for us while not compromising on our quality.

What are the biggest challenges?
The supply chain and COVID

What are you most looking forward to in 2022?
I look forward to every year. There’s not a year that I don’t get excited about to try to learn how to grow the category, to look forward to the new trends, what we’re going to come up with next. It amazes me how well QuikTrip does with all this and how well-rounded QuikTrip is. There’s nothing I don’t look forward to, so I don’t know if I can pin it down to one answer. Just looking forward to growing as a company.