8 Easy Ways to Offer Customization

C-store shoppers seek food made exactly how they want it

Customization is important to more than a third of customers, according to a December 2016 report from market research company Mintel.


This burgeoning interest in customization allows consumers to create a meal that suits them, and is being powered by restaurants, which are increasingly letting customers order any which way.

Women, millennials and heavy convenience store users in particular are seeking customization from their c-store, according to Donna Hood Crecca, senior director with foodservice research company Technomic.

A report last year from Packaged Facts, “Millennial Menus: Culinary Trend Tracking Series,” pointed out that customization is one of the top five food trends driven by millennials.

“Today's consumers in general and millennials in particular want food items that are fresh, creative and made just for them,” the Rockville, Md.-based company reported.

“The ability to customize a food item really ramps up the value perception because when people can customize they know they’re going to have a flavor profile they like,” says Hood Crecca.

Here are a few easy ways c-stores can offer customizable options customers crave:

  1. Provide made-to-order stations, such as sandwiches and pizza, so customers can add to or subtract from their dishes as they’re being made. At QuikTrip, sandwiches are made to-order, per each customer’s specifications, “and we make them perfect, the first time,” says spokesman Mike Thornbrugh. According to Technomic, 76% of consumers say made-to-order food stations are highly appealing at c-stores.
  2. Use touch-screens. Rutters Farm Stores claims around 40 billion options via the screens its customers use to order anything from fried chicken and  grilled chicken tenders to boneless chicken and bone-in chicken wings. The screens also offer sandwiches, burritos and pizzas. “They are getting exactly what they want and there’s a little theater in it, too,” says director of foodservice, Ryan Krebs. “Customization is where we hang our hat.”
  3. Offer hot or cold food bars. Technomic data shows that six in 10 consumers are more likely to visit a c-store if there is a food bar. “There’s a high level of customization with these,” says Hood Crecca.
  4. “Offer different sauces for items like chicken wings or dishes like Mexican food, which can really prompt the customer to get creative,” she says. When it comes to chicken wings, younger consumers are driving demand for less traditional options like chipotle (21% of 18-34-year-olds) and lemon pepper (16%), says the Technomic 2015 Flavor Consumer Trend Report.
  5. Leverage technology by creating a mobile app so shoppers can customize to their heart’s content online but can grab-and-go quickly, says Jordan Rost, vice president of consumer insights for market research company Nielsen.
  6. Feature carriers that can be used in multiple applications, such as waffles as a breakfast dish, breakfast-sandwich carrier, accompaniment with chicken or other entree. According to Technomic’s 2015 Breakfast Consumer Trend Report and 2015 Sandwich Consumer Trend Report, 23% of consumers would order a breakfast sandwich made with waffles, and even more would order waffles for breakfast during the week (35%) or weekend (44%).
  7. Condiment bars at Quik Trip stores allow customers to finish their sandwich however they choose, says Paul Servais, retail food service director.  “Fresh lettuce, tomatoes, jalapenos, pickles, etc. are all available to our guests 24 hours a day.”
  8. Serve items that lend themselves to easy customization, including sandwiches, items with dips, flatbreads and pizzas. Most consumers who eat sandwiches say it’s very important that the sandwiches they purchase for lunch (62%) or dinner (66%) are customizable, according to Technomic’s 2016 Sandwich Consumer Trend Report.

C-stores can even invite customers to play with the flavor profiles, Hood Crecca suggests, such as mixing and matching chicken coating flavorings with sauces on different visits. “That sense of control is important, especially for younger consumers,” she says.

Giving shoppers the ability to customize cannot only draw them in, but can also increase the frequency of their visits, Hood Crecca says, “as they can combine different flavor profiles on different days.” Customization, she adds, keeps a foodservice program fresh.

It gives consumers the opportunity to explore and be a little adventurous with the ability to control their meal.

This post is sponsored by Tyson Convenience

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