Healthy and Convenient?

7-Eleven auditions new food offerings in Denver

DENVER -- Another local newspaper has taken notice of7-Eleven'shealthy food leanings. Earlier this month, the San Francisco Chronicle noted the variety of foodservice offerings after walking the 7-Eleven University floor there. On Friday, the Rocky Mountain News reported on a similar event in Denver with this report:

7-Eleven still reigns as a 24-hour mecca for junk food, but freshly cut mango and berries vied for the appetites of the company's store operators in Denver on Thursday, as they sampled their way through an annual orientation event.[image-nocss]

Cellophane-wrapped packages of Ho-Hos, Ding Dongs and Twinkies now have to earn their place on the shelves of the convenience chain's nearly 24,000 stores worldwide. 7-Eleven stores are making more room for salads, fruit and locally prepared sandwiches made with such unlikely ingredients as ciabatta bread and cilantro.

So far, the fresh fare accounts for about 10% of the more than $40 billion in annual revenues generated by the Dallas-based company's stores. "We think the upside is pretty significant," said 7-Eleven CEO Joe DePinto. "We're rallying the whole organization around it."

Almost 800 people milled about in a cavernous space at the Merchandise Mart for several hours of food scarfing, pep talks and seminars about the company's newest offerings. DePinto urged a visitor to try a bite of his favorite new food product, dubbed P'EatZZa. It's a newfangled sandwich fashioned out of two cold slabs of pizza (actually flatbread with tomato and cheeses).

One version of the prepackaged concoction listed dozens of ingredients and contained 16 grams of fat. By contrast, the company's "Pick Smart" sandwiches have less than 10 grams of fat and 420 calories.

DePinto also recommended the Laffy Taffy Mango Melon Slurpee, which has candy to match its bright-orange hue that's available exclusively at 7-Eleven stores.

The key to 7-Eleven's products: They must be convenient, or at least portable. "Most of our customers eat in the car," said JoAnne DeLorenzo, the company's vice president of fresh foods.

In a mock-store setting, the company displayed shiny whole apples and oranges in plastic containers and brightly colored salads to go. Just across the aisle, 7-Eleven staples such as packaged cupcakes and fruit pies crammed the shelves.

"It's been our lifeblood the convenience store," said John Pollock, who has worked for two decades as an account manager for Interstate Brands, which peddles such mainstays as Wonder Bread, Hostess and Dolly Madison products. "Put my kids through college."

The 18-to-35-year-old male has been the main customer all these years, he said. "They have the money and the appetite," he said.

Local Colorado store franchisees and managers walked the floor to try out foods that, in some cases, won't be available until summer. Some of the new coffee flavors: Bourbon Bon Bon and Mango Passion Fruit.

The new Bistro Griller, an Italian sausage wrapped in bread and browned on the grill, drew some interest. "They would love this," Mehdi Soleimanpour said of the early morning customers at his store near the Denver Tech Center. Soleimanpour recently signed on as one of the state's 7-Eleven franchisees.

James Nyakundi, who runs a 7-Eleven in Irving, Texas, wandered the floor while noshing on sliced strawberries. "I've seen a lot of change in 10 years," he said. "Customers could not have cared about what you provided. Now, a lot of them are conscious about their health."

For those who still want the works, display shelves at the show were brimming with all the usual suspects: cigarettes, tins of Spam and big bags of potato chips.

What sells? "Primarily, junk," said Michael Thomas, who recently became a 7-Eleven franchisee in Longmont. "But you can see just by the numbers, the growth is there for the fresh stuff."

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