How to Bring Customers in From the Pump

Switching the focus to foodservice dollars

man in gas station cafe

Brought to you by PDI.

Convenience stores have long relied on gasoline sales, along with other traditional food and beverage items, to sustain them, but those days are waning. Consumers are coming to expect more when they enter a c-store, especially from foodservice offerings.

But foodservice needs to be done right. Since high-quality options are now offered everywhere—from bookstores to grocery store delis—any c-store looking to take their foodservice program to the next level must do it properly.

The home page of QuickChek, a New Jersey-based chain, features a rotating collection of fresh foods, from hot soup to made-to-order sandwiches and more. This is because fresh is key when you’re trying to draw customers to your foodservice program.

“The biggest buzzword right now in terms of foodservice is the word ‘fresh,’” says Austin Skaggs, vice president, professional services with PDI in Temple, Texas.  “Everyone’s promoting the fact that they have fresh food. The focus is not on roller grills. It’s on fresh, healthy and tasty.”

There’s a second buzzword, too, he says, and it’s customize. “When you look at millennials—and this really applies to everyone, but especially the millennial market—they prefer the ability to customize that freshness. So, any signage you use will need to contain some combination of these messaging components: fresh, custom and cheap. If you can get that on a sign, you’re going to get a bunch of people.”

Who are your customers?

Retailers need to do their research before jumping into foodservice, Skaggs advises, rather than simply filling the shelves with food and beverages.

“Chains that succeed most study the demographics of people in their area, and they customize their offerings according to their tastes,” he says. Transaction-level reports, detailed data and trends specific to a store’s area all provide insightful, actionable data, he explains. This means fresh food can take many different forms across the country.

“If you were in a retirement community, you’d hopefully carry different items than if you were in a college town,” Skaggs says. “There are certain parts of the country where you’ll see more Indian food, but a few states over you’ll see stores carrying made-to-order tacos. It pays to know your audience.”

Also, foodservice trends change quickly, so it’s important to stay on the cutting edge. Chipotle was the trendy spice last year, for example, while this year, Thai food is gaining popularity. “Keeping up with the latest flavors plays a big role,” Skaggs says. “Consumers are increasingly well-traveled, and we live in a globally connected society, so the expectation of access to flavors from all over the world is increasing.”

Putting it into action

Retailers may want to test out some of these flavors in LTOs, to see how popular they are, as well as run regular LTOs, combos and specials to encourage customers to try new foodservice offerings at their stores. “The key is to make sure signage is clearly visible and having cashiers talented enough to upsell,” says Skaggs.

Once retailers have introduced fresh food, it’s crucial to let customers know about it. Interior and exterior signage goes without saying, but it’s also important to use social media, Skaggs says. The key to success, he says, knowing your audience and “finding the voice and content combination that resonates with them.”