San Diego First on West Coast to Get 7-Eleven's Foodservice Update

Revamp includes rollout of hot pizzas, tacos, expanded coffee bars

SAN DIEGO -- San Diego is 7-Eleven Inc.'s first West Coast region to get the retailer's updated foodservice format, in more than 200 area stores, as part of a chain-wide renovation project, reported The San Diego Union-Tribune.

It is rolling out hot food cases, packed with pizza, tacos and taquitos, while expanding its heavily used coffee bars.

The stores are meant to be one-stop shops tailored to the neighborhood, said the report. While they carry an increasing number of food items, the stores are not trying to compete with supermarkets or restaurants, company spokesperson Margaret Chabris told the newspaper.

The renovation will help 7-Eleven freshen its image and become known for quick meals, while boosting its core coffee and beverage business, according to the report.

The chain is spending millions of dollars on the local upgrades, which have been in progress since early this year.

"It's not every day that you have the opportunity to make a 'new' first impression, and we are taking the opportunity to do just that," Tom Lesser, company zone leader in San Diego, Arizona and Las Vegas, told the paper. "With the across-the-store remodels, great new products like pizza and wings, and staff members enthusiastic about all the improvements, we believe the entire shopping experience is improved."

The Dallas-based corporation is expanding worldwide, with plans to open a dozen new stores in the San Diego area this year, and 18 or more each subsequent year. The chain views the San Diego market as an attractive area for several reasons, said Chabris--the area's population density and projected population growth; the ratio of population to number of c-stores; a positive economic outlook; and favorable weather, recreation and outdoor activities.

The store-remodeling projects in San Diego ramped up in March, happening mostly at night, the Times-Union said. In four months, the retailer spruced up its properties top to bottom, with new walls, floors, ceilings, lighting and fixtures accented in warm maple tones and some exterior work such as parking lot resurfacing.

A handful of the San Diego 7-Eleven stores already had hot foods and expanded coffee bars when the renovations began, but most received them as part of this project.

Subtle changes include refrigerated display cases with wheels that automatically push products to the front when a customer grabs a bottle, and enhanced LED lighting to make products stand out.

"Consumers like to see a lot of stock: It makes them feel good," Chabris said. "It makes them feel they have a lot of choice."

Each store has a slightly different assortment of products tailored to the neighborhood. The chain has a proprietary inventory system that allows store managers to forecast demand and use a tablet to order items right from the aisles. "We know item by item, store by store, day by day, what's selling," Lesser said.

There's a whole new array of hot foods, mostly fried and seasoned with a generous amount of salt, as well as lower-calorie options in the refrigerated case, the report said. Local stores rely on the chain's vast Orange County commissary, which prepares and distributes bakery items such as doughnuts, sandwiches, salad and fruit.

In the San Diego market, new menu items include four mini tacos filled with shredded beef for $1; $1 slices of cheese or pepperoni pizza; and $1 jalapeno cream cheese taquitos. The hot foods are cooked in new Turbochef ovens and held in glass-window hot cases. A refrigerated pizza on a precooked crust becomes an aromatic pie with bubbling cheese in two minutes or less.

Franchisees Raj and Bea Virk, who own one store in Escondido and two in Vista, said their sales have gone up significantly since introducing hot food. "Our guests especially love the four-for-a-dollar mini tacos and hot pizza," Bea Virk told the paper. "It's even hard for me not to eat the cheese pizza when it's hot and smells so good."

There's a condiment bar where some guests load up their pizza with jalapenos and onions, she added. "Just like Big Bite hot dogs; they like to customize their pizza."

The refrigerated case includes some items marked as healthy options. Offerings under 400 calories include the Combo Club on brown bread, $3.99; and the Apple Walnut Salad with Chicken, $4.29. And in the fountain-soda area, there's a new, sugar-free Slurpee frozen drink.

Coffee bars

Coffee is a big part of 7-Eleven's sales, and the chain says its quality will be improved with a new way of holding and serving it, and a roomy self-service coffee bar where customers can add fresh cream, sugar or low-calorie sweeteners, and even flavored syrups to their cups.

"We sell more cups of coffee than anything else throughout our store," Lesser said. "Our research shows that our customers want high quality coffee, any time of the day. They want more elbow room. And they want to make it just their way."

So 7-Eleven has expanded the coffee islands with a convenient flow and extra space. In a key change, stores have eliminated pot warmers. The coffee is now brewed at special stations, then held for up to two hours in thermal servers without warming elements. The thermal servers keep the temperature constant and protect it from exposure to air.

"It's all about freshness and quality: Air and heat are the enemies of quality," said Lesser.

The coffee servers have digital displays that show how full they are and indicate when two hours have passed, at which point leftover coffee is discarded.

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