CHICAGO -- Convenience stores are simultaneously working to combat some lingering negative perceptions about c-store food, while trying to successfully capitalize on the strengthening trend toward retail foodservice. Brands looking to get in the foodservice game—as well as existing players hunting for a stronger point of differentiation—need to consider the fundamentals, while keeping outside-the-box creativity top of mind.
Joe Petrowski, former CEO of Cumberland Farms and current senior adviser for Yesway, recently reached out to CSP Daily News with some food for thought on best practices for convenience operators. Here, Petrowski weighs in with 12 factors that, in his view, must be managed in order for convenience stores to create a winning foodservice program.
Coffee is king
Americans consume an estimated 300 million cups of coffee a day. About 35% of that consumption takes place at quick-service coffee chains such as Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, while 33% takes place at home or in the office. This leaves about 100 million cups up for grabs, putting c-stores in position to capitalize, especially “if you consider the price-point advantage and ability to customize at a convenience location,” said Petrowski.
Focus on all three dayparts
Convenience stores generally have higher traffic during morning and evening hours, with diminished visits in the middle of the day. To boost lunchtime patronage, Petrowski suggests taking some cues from quick-service restaurants (QSRs): “A convenience retailer can capture share from the brand QSRs by allowing a space to eat at the establishment—preferably outside. In-N-Out in California distinguished itself with this distinction.” While most c-stores lack sufficient space, for those able to execute on it, patio dining could be “a huge differentiator for lunchtime shoppers," he said.
Remember that simple and fresh is best
While developing a specialty or signature item is vital, consider the execution from an operational standpoint. Convenience stores should “avoid the exotic, difficult-to-make or short-shelf-life item,” said Petrowski. From the store associate’s perspective, “anything that is complicated and time consuming is a threat to smooth operations.”
Don't skimp on equipment
“Bakery display cases, coffee bars, shake and fountain dispensers, coolers and freezers are often more important than the food they contain,” said Petrowski. High-quality equipment is a worthy investment, since frequent breakdowns will drive maintenance costs—and subsequent lost sales—sky-high.
Capitalize on healthy grab-and-go foods
Focus on grab-and-go options with a clear positioning toward health and wellness. Fresh prepared and packaged salads, fruit bowls and cups, and lower-calorie heat-and-eat meals have the potential to attract the more health-conscious customer (particularly women) in search of a quick meal or snack solution during the course of a busy day.
Explore new pizza opportunities
Increasing the available assortment of frozen pizzas—particularly branded items that reflect local/regional favorites—can be a great grab-and-go item for a convenience retailer. “Customers would rather bake, or microwave fresh, at their residence than eat a pizza slice of unknown vintage staring at them from behind a fingerprint-besmirched door,” said Petrowski.
Prioritize staffing for foodservice
Beyond appointing a director or vice president of foodservice, hiring “someone specifically devoted to coffee and dispensed beverages is critical,” said Petrowski. Additionally, a category manager who oversees equipment and vendor selection is a key position.