Roll Call

Use these tips to heat up your roller-grill program.

Abbie Westra, Director, Editorial, CSP

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Flavor Trends

While not helping the issue of the overcrowded grill, a plethora of new products has certainly expanded the breadth of flavors available.

“If you looked at this industry 10 years ago, you probably thought hot dogs were just the mainstay on the grill. Now you’re starting to see a real dynamic shift from hot dogs to sausages, and now breaded items,” says Sarah Babb, Johnsonville’s senior brand manager, foodservice.

For Johnsonville, the spicy German bratwurst, jalapeno Cheddar sausage and Southwestern chorizo sausage are quickly gaining on the company’s stalwart Stadium Style bratwurst, smoky Cheddar and all-beef hot dog. The spicy German bratwurst jumped up to third top-selling SKU in less than a year.

Of course, the spectrum of enrobed products—from egg rolls to Tornados— has further opened the category to new flavor preferences. To help keep the display and signage streamlined, some manufacturers of protein and nonprotein products are teaming up to offer retailers one merchandising solution.

But with new nonprotein products come additional operational dynamics. Enrobed products require a higher temperature, which isn’t good for sausage products. Flavor migration is also a factor for all products. Even with dividers on the grill, operators must ensure the grill is level to avoid drips. Duesler prefers two grills as a way to ensure proper temperature management and the elimination of flavor migration.

Equipment Innovations

It’s not just the food that’s getting an upgrade. Equipment manufacturers are also improving the roller-grill experience, using different color options, more stylistic lines in design and utilitarian elements such as thermal drawers and micro-merchandisers.

“You’re going to see a lot of expanded offerings from manufacturers down the road, a greater focus on aesthetics. And you’re going to see a greater deal of customization,” says Jason Guilliam, sales manager for Nemco Food Equipment, Hicksville, Ohio.

Nemco has been appealing to highvolume operations with its thermal drawers that bring product up to temperature. “People like it because there’s no chance your customer is going to grab a product that’s not ready. Every time that product hits the roller grill, it’s already up to temp,” Guilliam says.

For enrobed products, manufacturers are innovating with textured rollers. The Roll Rite from Carol Stream, Ill.-based A.J. Antunes & Co., launched a year ago, has oblong-shaped rollers with a textured grip to ensure food keeps rolling. “If you have a breadth of products but they aren’t turning, they are DOA,” says Pete Hope, regional sales manager.

To help organize all the products on the grill, manufacturer Spirit Specialty Solutions, Lansdowne, Pa., has a new Roller Thimble: a rotating, double-sided tool that helps divide the grill while offering micro-merchandising. The thimble rotates with product, helpful for multilingual advertising or promoting LTOs.

Above all equipment and product choices, Duesler says, make the right decisions based on your demographic and traffi c, and then make the commitment to quality.

“The bigger you’re in it and the more you have to offer,” he says, “the higher the likelihood you’re going to get trial and build frequency.”   

Roller-Grill Tips

  • Use a day-part-based plan-o-gram as a foundation, but be prepared to adjust regularly based on sales and waste.
  • Start with three hot dog/sausage items plus an ethnic/enrobed offer and an LTO.
  • A good sales baseline is five links per SKU per day for low-volume stores, and 12 links per SKU per day for high-volume stores.
  • For new or revamped programs, create a six- to 12-month commitment in which a certain amount of waste will be permitted, no matter what.
  • While day-part-specific items are important, sales don’t necessarily match the meal. Track what’s selling when and merchandise accordingly.
  • Create a recipe cost card for each item that details its cost, including condiments, packaging and bun.   

C-Store ‘Game Changer’?  

Roller-grill customers may be some of c-stores’ most loyal shoppers, but where do they go when they’re not in the mood for a dog? be used for other products during off hours. Likely a burger or chicken joint for a hot sandwich.

A new program from AdvancePierre Foods is meant to capture those customers with a hot-sandwich program that mimics the process of the roller grill, with minimal employee handling.

The Fast Fixin’ Sandwich Bar program consists of a smallfootprint hot-holding unit with wells to hold three prepackaged trays of fully cooked proteins: Angus beef patties, breaded chicken and barbecue pork rib patties. The proteins are brought to temperature in a microwave, conventional or convection oven inside the packaging (about 3 minutes in a microwave), eliminating any employee contact with the food. 

All the equipment is component-based, so retailers can build the program based on their own equipment needs, be it bun warmers or condiment bars. The hot holder has inserts so it can

“We see this as the next level of hot food, being able to sell a product that’s more like a fast-food restaurant chain,” says Grant Wilson, vice president of convenience sales for the Cincinnati-based company. “We view this, to a certain degree, as a game changer in the c-store industry.”  

The protein comes in six pieces per tray, and the suggested retail price is $1.99, or $2.49 to $2.99 for double-meat sandwiches, already a popular option in the dozen stores the program has been tested in.  

“Operators are really excited that this is an easy hot-food solution, and I see that as revolutionary in the business,” says Tony Schroder, president, convenience. “Once we’re able to sell hot, we’re truly in the foodservice business and truly competing with fast-food chains.”  


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