‘A Dietitian Walks Into a Convenience Store ...’

Kwik Trip’s healthy strategy paying off, putting the lie to a punchline

LA CROSSE, Wis. -- Bad gas station food. It’s the longest-running joke in the retail world.

“[At] most convenience stores, people don’t anticipate to walk in and find produce,” Erica Flint, registered dietitian at convenience-store retailer Kwik Trip Inc. told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “They don’t anticipate finding those fresher options.”

Helping to diminish the power of that joke, Flint is leading the chain’s efforts to capitalize on the trend in the retail food business toward fresh products, said the report.

Kwik Trip offers fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, salads and sandwiches among other healthy products in its more than 400 c-stores. It makes sandwiches and salads in the company’s commissary and delivers them fresh daily.

Kwik Trip’s fresh-food strategy is meant to appeal to increasingly health-conscious consumers, including members of the millennial generation.

“They want to know exactly what they are eating,” Flint said. “We try to stay on top of the trends.”

Among the company’s fresh offerings are yogurt parfaits and a variety of soups. The company also gets fresh lettuce delivered each day.

“We wash it here at our commissary; we chop it here at our commissary so that we are assuring the best-quality product,” Flint said.

Ideas for some of the company’s fresh food products come from a number of sources, said the report. “We will take suggestions from anyone, anywhere, anytime,” Flint said.

One very successful offering is fresh meat. “That category has grown astronomically,” she said.

The fresh product offerings have led to Kwik Trip stores’ being de facto grocery stores for some of the smaller communities the company serves, Flint said. “People can create an entire meal by stopping in one of our stores.”

Why does a convenience-store chain need a dietitian?

In an interview with The La Crosse Tribune, Flint said, “We produce a lot of items here that we make in our own facilities that need to have nutrition labels applied to them. I do all the calculating of the nutrition, and I get to go out and work with the community at different events. I work a lot with a healthy concessions program, with the School District of Onalaska, the YMCA, and Gundersen Lutheran.”

She continued, “I also sit in on all of our production meetings, so we work with the different departments just to talk about, when we’re creating something, how can we do this a little bit differently to make it a little bit more beneficial to someone’s health.”

For example, she said, “There was a sandwich that we brought in that was more of a healthy option. It wasn’t breaded, it was an oven-roasted chicken breast, but the sodium content was still pretty high. So we went back to the manufacturer and we said, we’re really trying to make this into a bit healthier of a sandwich, so what can we do? And their staff worked with it and got the sodium down. It’s a good improvement from where it was.”

She also oversees the agreement Kwik Trip has with the Partnership for a Healthier America, which it joined in March 2014. The chain committed to improving healthier food access and implementing a new EATSmart program and other policies that promote healthy habits among consumers. She makes sure that the company is meeting its commitments to that program.

“We do get naysayers who say, you sell cigarettes, and you sell junk food, and we do,” Flint told the newspaper. “We do sell those things. But frankly, so do grocery stores. And I think that people, because there’s a magnitude of healthy choices in a grocery store, think they’re healthier than a convenience store. But we’re the same thing with a smaller footprint. Nobody wants to be told how to live their life. Nobody wants us to tell them what the right thing to eat is. I’m a dietitian, but I still like to eat a candy bar every now and again.”

Founded in 1965, Kwik Trip is one of the largest independently held convenience-store chains in the United States. The La Crosse, Wis.-based company owns and operates more than 475 Kwik Trip and Kwik Star locations in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.


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