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Foodservice

The Fate of Laredo Taco Co.

Can the successful foodservice concept work outside of Texas?

IRVING, Texas -- Laredo Taco Company has become proof of the potential of a c-store foodservice brand. With the shift in ownership of the Stripes stores, Laredo’s future now lies in 7-Eleven Inc.’s hands.

“I’ve always admired Sam Susser and what he and his team built at Stripes,” says Joe DePinto, president and CEO of Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven. Susser’s Susser Holdings established the Stripes chain and was acquired by Sunoco parent ETP in 2014. “Laredo Taco is part of that. We like the concept a lot.”

But like any other foodservice concept, DePinto says, “it has got to be right for the consumer. … Whether we can expand it outside of Texas, time will tell, but I do think Tex-Mex will resonate with the consumer outside of Texas. It’s just a question of where.”

In 2016, Sunoco began to test Laredo Taco outside of Texas, opening locations near Pittsburgh and Nashville. Steve DeSutter, former president of the Stripes retail network, speculates that 7-Eleven, rather than roll up Stripes in a traditional manner, could elevate it from its current market positioning.

“I think there’s a good chance they’ll use the Stripes/Laredo Taco as a platform for the next generation of 7-Eleven,” says DeSutter, who is now CEO of Focus Brands, Atlanta. “I think they’re looking at this acquisition as a way to further their understanding of food and how to better integrate it into their business model.”

But foodservice hasn’t always been a cultural strength of 7-Eleven. John Matthews, now president and CEO of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc., Wake Forest, N.C., was vice president of marketing and merchandising for Clark Retail Enterprises/White Hen Pantry from 1996 to 2003. 7-Eleven acquired the Lombard, Ill.-based White Hen Pantry chain in 2006, and with it, its reputation for solid in-store delis.

“With an iconic brand like White Hen, it was all but forgotten in lieu of commonality to the 7-Eleven brand as well as its systems and processes. Managing multiple platforms is probably not in the cards for 7- Eleven,” Matthews says. “I would expect that the Stripes chain will eventually be ‘7-Eleven-ized.’

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