Savannah Johnson, food category manager for Knoxville, Tennessee-based Pilot Co., has been with the company for more than seven years, four of those in foodservice. In her role, she oversees annual category planning, cost negotiations, product launches, vendor relationships and more. She graduated from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree in marketing.

What’s new and exciting in your category?
It’s the most exciting time to be in the food industry, and understanding the guest experience in food and beverage is the key to success. Consumers have evolved so much over the last few years, changing the dining experience in the convenience world by positioning food and beverage as a primary traffic driver for the future. A greater emphasis on food and beverage this year allows us to be more creative on new LTOs and guest comfort food.

“We’ve been very intentional about making our food the star of the show.”

Any recent changes to how you’re displaying products?
We’ve been very intentional about making our food the star of the show in our travel centers with a new concept called food forward. With this new concept, we positioned food and beverage up front and in view so that it’s the first thing you experience when you walk in a store.

What do you love about your category?
I love that I get to work with so many people, not only on the food category and innovation teams but also different internal departments, such as the brand and distribution teams as well as our vendors to launch a product. I also love that the food industry is ever-changing, there are no two days that are the same, and if the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that you always have to be on your toes and ready to pivot at a moment’s notice.

What trends are you watching?
All things digital and how consumers react to new delivery channels in the convenience market.

What products performed well in the past year?
The breakfast daypart really took off, and our breakfast sandwiches outperformed expectations. One of our most successful breakfast launches ... was the Honey Maple Chicken Waffler LTO that expanded on our successful chicken sandwich campaign we launched in early 2021.

What are your goals for 2023?
Consistency—not only offer great quality products and guest satisfaction, but consistently offer great products from store to store.

What are the biggest challenges?
Supply and inflation were some of our biggest challenges last year. ... Another challenge we had was the ability to continue to develop and retain great team members, which helps create better consistency across all stores.

What are you most looking forward to in 2023?
Getting to collaborate again with vendors on new products and ideas. For so long, we really could only run the basics and now vendors are opening capacity up to create some really cool things for 2023.