New on the Menu

Couche-Tard Eastern Canada unveils fresh, ready-to-eat store concept

Steve Holtz, Editor in Chief, CSP Daily News

LAVAL, Quebec-- The province of Quebec is getting a taste of fresh, healthy foods the Couche-Tard way following the unveiling yesterday of the division's Couche-Tard Menu store in the suburbs on Montreal. In test for a year, the Menu concept includes a redesigned store, an updated menu and a modified logo to make the sites stand out from the typical store.

"We estimate about 20% of our approximately 600 stores qualify for this potential offer," Chantale Sajo, marketing director for Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.'s Eastern Canada division, told CSP Daily News. "We use geographic and demographic [image-nocss] data to determine if a store qualifies. Will there be people that are interested in our offer coming in and shopping in the store?"

That key demographic is on-the-go and interested in healthy alternatives to eating typical fast food, she said.

"[There is an] evolution of consumer demand to market trends that we're working with, time constraints on the part of our consumers," Sajo said. "A lot of people here in Quebec are pressed for time; they're looking for ready-to-eat solutions, and we're there for them in that sense. Also, people are looking for products that are healthier. We want to accommodate these consumers with these trends. We're evolving toward that."

With a "bright and welcoming self-service environment," the Menu stores, as reported in a CSP Daily News Flash yesterday, feature not only the traditional products Couche-Tard c-stores are known for—from gasoline and milk to beer and tobacco products—but also a range of brand-name prepared meals, warm pastries and a selection of specialty coffees.

"We have developed a new concept that includes a large variety of food offers," Laura Gutierrez, business development manager for Couche-Tard Eastern Canada, told CSP Daily News. "The stores have the traditional offer that we used to have, but it's divided into sections, the traditional section and the ready-to-eat products in another section of the store. It's a central location, which welcomes the consumer."

Customers can choose from a wide variety of foods: sushi, hearty soups, mousses, salads, smoothies, high-end Asian and Italian dishes, pizzas, pasta sauces, lasagna, wraps, breakfast sandwiches, fajitas, sorbets, pâtés, yogurts, low calorie meals, desserts, Viennese pastries, cappuccinos, espressos and lattes, among others.

Gutierrez said to her surprise, the sushi, a product once impossible for the c-store chain to offer because of supply hurdles, has done quite well in the seven Menu test stores that are now open. "We were amazed with the results. This is one of our top-selling products in the store right now," she said.

And while test results have been good so far, Couche-Tard has set a pretty high benchmark before the concept will be rolled into additional stores.

"Ready-to-eat food currently in our traditional stores is 5% of our offer," said Sajo. "In these new stores…we see this sales mix increasing to 9% or 10%. And we're looking at increasing that to over 15% and hoping for up to 20%.… We won't be deploying any other stores until we attain this sales mix.

Couche-Tard Menu stores have been organized around a central counter. A food advisor in each store is available to help customers with their selections while ensuring that the products offered meet Couche-Tard's quality and freshness criteria. The concept is aimed at responding to the lifestyles of customers who seek high-quality, ready-to-eat foods at prices competitive with those in supermarkets.

"Innovation is at the heart of our new offer," Michel Bernard, vice president of Eastern Canada Operations for Couche-Tard, said in a press release. "We are proud to provide our many loyal customers with practical solutions in the form of exclusive, innovative products, more than 80% of which come from Quebec. Customers can take advantage of this new service at all times of the day, whether they are picking up lunch close to their workplace or dinner on their way home."

Couche-Tard spent $2 million renovating stores to implement the new concept, and the model is initially being launched in eight stores in the Greater Montreal Region. This strategy will help ensure that the Couche-Tard management team at the company's head office in Laval immediately receives customer comments and suggestions, allowing any necessary improvements to be made before the progressive integration of the concept into more stores in the Couche-Tard network.

Sajo said other divisions of Couche-Tard are taking similar looks at revamping their foodservice offers, with varying results.

"This is a welcome product of [Alimentation Couche-Tard's] decentralization," she said. "Many of our other divisions across the U.S. and in Canada are themselves developing food concepts. But the important part of this is that we're all adapting our offer to the local market. Here is Quebec, ready-to-eat is important, but healthy ready-to-eat is very important, and to this extent, we're not deploying hot dogs or we're not deploying fried products. We're deploying fresh, ready-to-eat, healthy products. So each division is right now deploying their own food offer, but it's adapted to the market.

"Our Western Division in Canada has a concept called Take Away Café, and we are in frequent discussions with them to talk about best practices and how to optimize our operations and our [sales results]."

Laval, Quebec-based Couche-Tard is the second-largest independent c-store operator in North America terms of the number of stores.Its network is comprised of 5,690 c-stores located in 11 large geographic markets, including eight in the United States covering 30 states and three in Canada covering six provinces.Clickthe Download Now buttonto view another photo from the store.

Steve Holtz, CSP/Winsight By Steve Holtz, Editor in Chief, CSP Daily News
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