Start From Scratch

Why now is the time to rebuild foodservice programs
two people pulling a cart
Illustration by Nathan Hackett

CHICAGO — Since the pandemic has modified traditional food operations for the indefinite future, c-store operators may benefit from starting from scratch and completely rebuilding their foodservice programs.

“Make a whole new business plan for foodservice,” says Kyle Lore, corporate executive chef for Maverik, a 342-store chain based in Salt Lake City. “Make a SWOT analysis to identity your strengths and threats, figure out your capital investment, and invest in the right people.”

But what’s included in a full rebuild varies from chain to chain.

Maverik’s foodservice reboot includes retraining staff on equipment and cooking and refocusing its menu on items that fit its new safety standards, Lore says. Over the past few months, Maverik has invested more effort into family-style pizzas and breakfast burritos, but has removed various tacos, sandwiches, salads and wraps that are either self-serve or contain ingredients that don’t travel well, such as shredded lettuce, Lore says. Maverik has also turned many of its made-to-order items into cold grab-and-go offerings.

“Offer what is performing well and what will continue to perform post-pandemic,” Lore says.

Clark’s Pump-N-Shop hasn’t revamped its food offerings specifically, but the Ashland, Ky.- based retailer has redesigned its physical menu to “read the right way to customers,” says Jessica Russell, director of foodservice for the chain’s 68 stores. The new menu layout features updated prices, cleaner text and new specials. Clark’s is also working on a new catering menu to keep up with consumer demand for takeout and delivery and wants to boost its mobile app.

“Our customers are not as engaged with our app as much as we would like them to be,” she says. “Many of our customers are in rural areas who like to come into the store, and getting them to use the app for the first time is a challenge.”

Starting from scratch may also mean implementing alternatives for self-serve options such as roller grill and coffee bars, as well as made-to-order programs. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of c-store consumers said they would feel more comfortable purchasing prepared foods when served by a clerk compared to self-serve, while 59% said the same for coffee, according to Intouch Insight’s 2020 C-Store Consumer Habits Survey.

Recast the Crew

Would you feel more comfortable purchasing prepared foods via crew-serve or self-serve in c-stores?

Would you feel more comfortable purchasing coffee via crew-serve or self-serve in c-stores?

Source: Intouch Insight 2020 C-Store Consumer Habits Survey

Foodservice manufacturer Rich’s Products Corp., Buffalo, N.Y., has recently worked with c-store operators on developing alternatives for self-serve programs. Some of these solutions include individually wrapping self-serve baked goods and roller-grill items, as well as adding tamper-proof labels to seal items, says Tom Michalewski, customer marketing manager of convenience and foodservice for Rich’s. Michalewski suggests that c-stores also add in-store signage that promotes these measures to get customers feeling good about these programs.

“Operators will need to rebuild consumer confidence in self-serve programs and take measures to pivot, evolve and re-emerge,” he says.

Redirecting employee tasks also comes with starting from scratch, says Jonathan Raduns, CEO of consultancy Merchandise Food LLC, Cherry Hill, N.J.

Foodservice teams may benefit from a total reboot because they can focus on long-term efforts that were “kept on the back burner” prior to the pandemic, he says. These include improving operational systems or hallmark projects such as crafting employee handbooks or improving the brand’s mobile app, similar to what Clark’s Pump-N-Shop is doing.

Raduns also suggests operators starting from scratch invest in versatile equipment, including heaters or merchandisers that can easily adjust or move around the store rather than countertops mounted to the floor.

“Planning for the most versa tile equipment will be key to reflect approaches that will work in a ‘normal’ environment after the pandemic,” he says.

No matter the initiative— trimming the menu, rehiring and retraining staff or installing new equipment and technology—aligning with customer expectations is the key to successful rebooting a foodservice program post-pandemic, says April Sauls, director of retail food for Little General Stores, a 112-unit chain based in Beckley, W.Va.

“Take a step back and look at it from the customer standpoint,” she says. “Ask yourself: Does it make sense for the customer? Will they be open to this and feel safe and good about it?”

More: Safety Comes First

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