the spice of life

As foodservice flourishes, Open Pantry is getting its “fare share” by serving up authentic ethnic dishes.

Anyone can throw a littleTabasco sauce in meat, wrap itin a tortilla and say they have a Mexican program. It’s another thing tocull an offer after trekking theSouthwest to find the real deal inauthentic flavors and ingredients, whichis exactly what Open Pantry FoodMarts of Wisconsin did.

It was its experience in the foodservice business that sent the chain insearch of authentic ingredients. Several years ago, when the Pleasant Prairie, Wis.-based companysought to createan upscale coffee program,companyPresident Robert Buhler and Senior Vice President Jim Fienetoured coffee houses all over the U.S.to find the right pieces to create itsideal coffee bar concept. The researchpaid off. It resulted in the WillowCreek Coffee offer, which has had the33-store concept stealing Starbucks’customers throughout its markets ofoperations.

So about a year ago, when the company sought to create a new facet to itsexisting foodservice program, Buhlerand Fiene saddled up for another U.S.tour—like Butch Cassidy and theSundance Kid. This time they werekeenly focused on the Southwest anduncovering the secrets of what makesfor an authentic Mexican program.

“We wanted to try for somethingauthentic and fresh, which is the wayconsumer tastes are going,” said Fiene.”The newest hamburger in town is nota trend. People expect a hamburger totaste like a quarter-pounder—it’s anexpected taste. We wanted to giveconsumers another option and achance to try something different. Wedidn’t invent the fresh burrito, butwe’re trying to refine it for our market.”

Blazing the Trail
Taking a cue from companies likeChipotle Grills and Qudoba, OpenPantry sought to create a proprietaryprogram that would deliver the samehigh quality, but with the simplicity ofa Taco Bell Express. Fiene headeddown to New Mexico and after nearly four months, was able to find a partner that could produce authentic products for its new concept, the Sante FeCafe.

The centerpiece of Open Pantry’sSante Fe Cafe concept is its burritos,which come in 12-inch and 14-inchsizes in a number of different flavorslike steak or chicken with or withoutpotatoes. The more popular items onthe menu are the vegetarian burritoand a considerable 14-ounce breakfastburrito that comes in four varieties.The program offers four differentsauces ranging from hot to authentic and a flavorful whitesauce that is unlike anything in the Wisconsin market. And with the Cafe addition to the program,Open Pantry can offer all the extras that make for a completeMexican menu: rice and beans aswell as nachos and desserts.

“We wanted something as close to a regular burrito shop aspossible, and you can’t get thatthrough a Taco Bell Express,” saidFiene. “At the same time, the programrequires very low labor and is consumer friendly. We’ve created a concept that’s easy to understand and stillconveys a value, while promoting afresh concept that adds flavor andattention to the brand.”

It was also very important to OpenPantry that it create a foodservicebrand internally that could grow on itsown in the market place. Fiene felt thatif Open Pantry kept its standards as high as other companies, it could create a strong a program without havingto share the profits with a brand name.

“We felt we could do it internally,and, quite frankly, we did,” he said.

Managing Operating Costs
Two important aspects of Sante FeCafe are that the program requires little labor as well as being cost-effectivewhen it’s implemented at retail.

Open Pantry was able to keep laborlow by partnering with a commissary in New Mexico that produces bulkshipments of fresh, authentic Mexicanfood products. The shipments arefrozen and shipped to its Minnesotawarehouse where the company’s grocery distributor, McLane, distributesproduct to the convenience stores.

“The key to success isn’t where youfind the good product, but how youget it distributed to your stores,” Fieneadded. “McLane was a big help gettingus there.”

Associates simply thaw the product, heat it in the microwave and maintainit in counter warmers or steamtables.This set up allows Open Pantry tooffer a grab-n-go concept as well asmade-to-order product. The companymerchandises heated product in Hatcounits at the register for customers onthe go, but it also provides an opportunity for customers to personalize theirorder at the counter.

By finding a product that can bedisplayed and served from steamtablesalso saved Open Pantry a great dealwhen it came to construction.

“Being able to thaw and heatproducts in microwaves, andthen sustain them throughsteamtables allows us to implement the program without having to put in vents or fire retardant systems,” said Fiene. “In thelast 10 months that our first location has been opened, we’verefined the process and figuredhow to make great tasting product quickly, without having tomake a $100,000 investment per store.”

Open Pantry would like to add theSante Fe Cafe to any store with thespace to spare. According to Fiene, thecompany needs 500 square feet to doit properly, which means a store needsto be at least 2,500 square feet to beconsidered. The company is in theprocess of opening its second andthird Sante Fe Cafes, with a fourthlocation expected in the early Spring2007.

Relate to Customers by Stocking Thoughtfully

Chris Wilson, director of marketing for Circle K’s WestCoast business unit, has wanted to implement a line of Mexican grocery products for some time. The 283 stores in the West CoastBusiness unit—spanning Washington, Oregon, California, NewMexico, Yuma, Ariz. and parts of Texas—carry some Hispanic products already, so he knew there was potential,but certain roadblocks have kept him frommaking it a reality.

First, Wilson wanted to make sure he hadthe appropriate mix of products that would satisfy his diverse customer base. That problemwas solved the minute he heard about Inca Products Authentic Hispanic Program. The AuthenticHispanic program offers various planograms including complete 4-foot and 3-foot dry grocery food and HBA displays of over 70 SKUs, along with 10 beverage SKUs in therefrigerated section. The line features the most popular Hispanicbrands such as Jumex, La Costena, Hershey Lorena, Nestle, ElAzteca and more.

Once Wilson knew what he wanted, he knew it would be a challenge to get it in his stores. Circle K has never been able to get theline through its distributor Core-Mark because it required full truck-load purchases, but when Core-Mark partnered with Inca, it presented the solution for him. Inca purchases the full truckload and sends it out to distributors, like Core-Mark. The truckloads are then split upand the wholesalers deliver what’s needed to stores.

Right Products to Right People
Inca combines its Hispanic product and consumerknowledge with sophisticated logistics consolidation systems and demographic profiling services to develop andbuild a successful marketing platform. Inca Productsalong with Nestle’s Hispanic division were able to do athorough demographic profiling of Circle K’s stores. Itsresearch showed that the line had the potential of capturing 46% of the company’s customers’ attentions.

"The profile showed that in the Northwest, Hispanics representon the low side about 29% of our consumers," said Wilson. "But inthe areas like El Paso, Texas, Hispanics represent 75% of our customers. And of the 46% overall, 93% of our consumers are of Mexican descent, which is whythe Inca Products appealed to us—they’reMexican products made in Mexico."

Through the demographic profiling services, Circle K was able to tar
get high-opportunity storelocations. Of the 190 sites that Inca identified, the company rolled the program into 179 stores about a month ago,and they’re already starting to show solid movement. According toWilson, some products have sold out and had to be reordered, inthe El Paso, Texas and Albuquerque, N.M. locations, in particular.

"We have been looking for a consolidated program like this forsome time," said Wilson. "By offering complete planogram servicesand consolidated logistics, the Inca program provides the ability tooffer a comprehensive program to our stores."

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