Spinx, Other Retailers Set Trend for Better-Quality Food

Foodservice “becoming its own draw” for convenience stores

Spinx Fresh on the Go menu

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Fresh produce, sandwiches, wraps and more are catching the eyes of consumers at Spinx Convenience Stores and serving as a sign of change in the c-store industry in South Carolina and beyond.

“In the age of the 21st-century gas station, … you're as likely to find unleaded fuel as you are to find a nice chicken-salad sandwich,” a surprised-sounding Greenville News editor wrote recently. “Today, food is not only becoming available, but is increasingly becoming its own draw.”

While Greenville, S.C.-based Spinx has a history of foodservice going back to 1994 when it teamed up with quick-service restaurants like Burger King, Subway and Dairy Queen, the chain launched its own food program in 2001, adding items that were made on site. Every new store was built with a commercial kitchen that allowed employees to prepare everything from egg biscuits to fried chicken.

Slowly, the idea has caught on with consumers, but it wasn't until 2010, when chairman Stewart Spinks' youngest son, Whitney, a foodie in his own right, joined the company that things really began to change, according to the newspaper article.

"Our image was one of only having stuff that's bad for you, whether its tobacco products or lottery or age-sensitive items like alcohol or tobacco or the Snicker's bar," Stewart Spinks told the newspaper. "So we looked at differentiating ourselves."

Whitney led the charge to develop more healthy options, which led to the establishment of Spinx's Fresh on the Go menu. The program includes the addition of fresh produce, daily made sandwiches, wraps, hummus packs and Greek yogurt.

Similar changes have been under way at Tulsa, Okla.-based QuikTrip Corp.

The chain of 700 c-stores has been adding more food items like pre-prepared sandwiches and fresh fruit over the past few years, and this year took it a step further with a new made-to-order-menu, which includes an array of hot sandwiches, pizzas and flatbreads that are prepared on site, according to the newspaper.

"I think at this point in time we have to get really good at what we're doing for consistency, and we'll expand the menu based on what our customers ask us for," Chuck Barton, vice president of sales and marketing for QuikTrip Corp., told the newspaper.

As the trend has grown, some gas stations are taking the concept of fresh food to a whole new level. One such station is Blowing Rock Market in Blowing Rock, N.C. The small gas station opened in 1950, sank into disrepair and was re-imagined as a convenience in 2002. Then, in 2011, David Barker bought it and took the idea of the market even further.

"We're trying to be a little different from the average convenience store,” Barker told the newspaper. "We're selling $100 bottles of wine 10 feet from a gas pump."

Today, in addition to selling gasoline, Blowing Rock Market sells creative Boars Head sandwiches, fine wine, cheese and even craft beer. Barker estimates his business is about 50-50 retail and gas.

"The most fun part of the job is when someone walks in the door and their eyes get big," Barker said. “And then they call out to the person pumping gas, 'You gotta come inside.' "

Click here to read the complete newspaper report.

Part of CSP's 2014 Convenience Top 101 retailers