Roller Grill Gets a Makeover

3 tasty trends c-store retailers should know about
Photograph: Shutterstock

Convenience stores have stepped up their foodservice game in recent years, upgrading from serving quick bites eaten on-the-go to offering high quality, tasty, healthier options, as well as expanded options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Chris Scott, Corporate Director, Fresh & Food Service at Core-Mark, says, “We are constantly researching new product offerings to keep our customers on trend.”

Retailers are tuned into these changes, offering products that fit these new trends.

Healthier options

“From a product perspective, consumers are looking for cleaner labels. Retail is wanting to provide their customers with accurate information about the products they’re serving,” Scott says.

Technomic data confirms this; its 2018 Healthy Eating report finds that 40% of consumers say their definitions of health have changed over the past two years, while 45% say they would be very likely to order healthier options at foodservice locations if they were offered. Additionally, Technomic’s 2018 Generational report finds that a third of consumers say that they are more likely to purchase and are willing to pay more for clean food and beverages, and a third say the same about natural food and beverages.

New flavors and products

Beyond cleaner label options, Scott says other trends include battered or enrobed products as well as chicken options. And the frequency of new limited-time offers (LTOs) is all thanks to consumers wanting more food options at c-stores.

Tad Truax, owner of Merritt#1, which operates a chain of convenience stores headquartered in Salem, Ore., says, “The trend I’ve seen with roller grill specifically is greater interest from customers looking for more diversity in products being offered. They’re looking to try to see new products in addition to the staple offerings.”

Younger diners in particular are visiting c-stores a lot for meals; according to Technomic’s Generational report, 65% of Gen Z and 67% of Millennials say they purchase food or beverages from c-stores at least once a month. For these diners, it’s important to offer different options for their frequent visits.

Truax says of the variety in his stores, “We’re using the Johnsonville® line as well as the Tornado line, and I’m seeing resonation with the Smokey Cheddar product. We’re testing out the breakfast hot dog. We’re also doing bratwurst and Italian sausage. We’re getting more repeat business -- they’re not just coming every time they feel like having a hot dog, they’re coming more often because they’re able to have different products.”

Sarah Babb, Director of Innovation and Category Marketing at Johnsonville, says, “We’re continuously looking to the trends and the needs of our customers to help guide new product innovation, and recently fielded a study with Technomic on what the future of roller grill will look like. In addition to premium quality items, the research indicates that consumers are looking for multiple sausage varieties on the grill so they can enjoy repeat visits and have a new taste experience. One insight is that Millennials and Gen Z are looking for spicier flavors, while consumers 35 and older want more traditional flavors on the grill.”

Expanded breakfast options

While lunch and dinner options are a cornerstone of any c-store’s foodservice program, breakfast shouldn’t be left behind. Truax says, “I think it’s important to have a morning offering. Roller grill programs historically have focused too much on the lunch and dinner offering. I do think that customers in the morning want a hot offering that’s easy for them to take and eat in the car or on their way to work and not have to make an extra stop at a fast-food restaurant every day.”

During the week, 24% of consumers say that if they skip breakfast, it’s because they don’t have time to eat it, according to Technomic’s 2017 Breakfast report, and when choosing to visit a foodservice location for breakfast, 31% of consumers cite speed of service as the reason they choose a specific place, while 30% say that a convenient location on the way to work or school is the reason.

Offering breakfast options doesn’t have to be complicated, either. With products like Maple Chipotle Sausage, Spicy Cheddar Omelet Sausage and French Toast Sausage, it’s easy to make sure c-store shoppers have the breakfast options they’re looking for.

Babb adds, “Merchandising a combo meal with coffee is an easy way to bring attention to breakfast on the grill, and differentiating your breakfast builds using a premium bun, like a Hawaiian bun, will drive even more consumer interest.”

Promotion, promotion, promotion

With these trends on the roller grill, consumers are excited to stop in for a quick, delicious bite to eat. But it’s important for retailers to advertise the new options.

Scott says, “We’ve moved from static menu boards to digital, which gives us a little more flexibility in advertising to our customers, letting them know how to build those unique items and providing more information about the products.”

Make sure that shoppers know about new or limited-time-only products, and watch the foodservice game pick up speed in your store.

This post is sponsored by Core-Mark

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