proprietary perserverance

Retailers are creating a buzz with new foodservice concepts— with some help from vendors and suppliers.

There’s more than one wayto skin a cat, just like there’smore than one way to run a convenience foodservice program.Some retailers don’t know where to start,so they team up with branded conceptsthat lay everything out for them. Othersknow what they want to offer and chooseto work independent of branded concepts—preferring not to have a brand’sparameters get in the way.

Both Indianapolis-based Village PantryLLC and Pittsfield, Mass.-based O’ConnellOil offer national branded concepts at ahandful of locations. Some Village Pantrystores feature Cruisin’ Chicken, NobleRomans and Charlie and Barneys, whileO’Connell still has a strong partnershipwith Dunkin’ Donuts and Subway. Butboth chains have expanded beyond theirbranded programs and have created proprietary concepts that pull even morecustomers to their lots.

“In most cases, we prefer to gounbranded. You can still offer a highquality product but at a better cost and itlowers retails for the customer,” said Chad Prast, foodservice director for 148-storeVillage Pantry. “The benefit of proprietary programs is that you can tweak themto better serve customers. Say you offer aham and Colby cheese sandwich, but yourcustomer wants Swiss. With a proprietaryprogram, I can accommodate customerrequests. If it’s a branded program, youhave to follow the guidelines.”

O’Connell Oil acknowledges thatnational branded programs were a bigreason some of its foodservice customersmay have first visited, but it’s the ingenuity of its proprietary programs that havekept them coming back.

“We may not have had a chance to servesome of our customers if they weren’tattracted by Subway or Dunkin’ Donutsinto our stores,” said John Gaudrault,senior vice president for the 32-store chain.”But once they’re in, they see how muchcare we put into our food program. With aproprietary program, we can run our ownspecials, pricing and we have the leewayto work with our team to develop newsandwiches, testing and how we’ll go tomarket.”

Morning Dollars
Foodservice has been a part of VillagePantry’s operations since its inception 40years ago. It began with a full-service deliprogram that sliced meats and scoopedpotato salad and cole slaw sides. It servedfull hot-meal replacement well aheadof the rest of the industry, with meatloafand side items. But the heart of the foodservice offering was the doughnuts thecompany fried on-site at the majority ofits locations.

Today, cold cuts are delivered presliced so the deli can prepare pre-packagedsandwiches fresh in stores. Hot foods areprimarily finger foods like chicken tenders, pizza and breadsticks.

Seeing that breakfast was one of thefastest growing dayparts, Village Pantrysought to make its morning offer as plushand inviting as possible. First, it neededto eliminate the labor-intensive doughnut operation, so it developed a morestraightforward solution. With a new andimproved program, the next step was tobrand it.

“Frying doughnuts was an eight-hour job in itself. Labor was a huge issue forus, so we ended up developing a pre-friedline,” said Prast. “When we first kickedit off our customers weren’t thrilled, sowe redeveloped it and came out withan improved doughnut. The “DonutExplosion” program had larger glazedrings and were double stuffed with filling.Now we’re experiencing more doughnutsales than when we first fried them andour customers love it.”

Village Pantry’s vendors have been aninvaluable resource to the chain as it stroveto enhance its programs. The company has teamed withBob Evans to furtherstrengthen its breakfast program, andits doughnut vendor, Maplehurst, alsooffers ideas almostweekly on how tobetter its products.

“Most of our foodideas are created in-house, but our vendors have a lot of inputand we appreciate everything they offer,”said Prast. “Foodservice represents about13% of our total sales and about 22% ofour profit generated inside the stores.”

Next the company will concentrate onupgrading its coffee program. With BUNNO-Matic by its side, Village Pantry has 98of the 148 stores up and running with thenew equipment. It will cost a pretty pennyper store, but the company is already seeing cup and dollar sales increases.

“BUNN is helping us create a moreconsistent look in every store so our customers can get the same cup of coffee nomatter what store they go into,” said Prast.

“Our Bean Brothers Limited program isunderway and we’re seeing 20 to 30% liftsin revenue already.”

Deli Done right
Foodservice began at O’Connell Oil 25years ago when the company installed itsfirst roller grills. It has since evolved intoa flourishing deli program that has farexceeded expectations.

The idea for the company’s proprietary Fresh & Fit concept originated withO’Connell Oil wanting to offer customershealthier options than what quick-service restaurants (QSRs) were putting outthere.

“Foodservice has really come into itsown in the last 10 to 12 years. When westarted, we wanted to give our customers a deli option for quality products likeLand O’ Lakes cheese and meat items,”said Gaudrault. “It vaulted us into ourFresh & Fit in-house label. We make ourown sandwiches, wraps and grindersfresh everyday, and we give our customers plenty of options. It really put us onthe map as a proprietary food companyand a destination for consumers who wanthealthier options than today’s QSRs.”

With help from its vendors, like J.Polep, O’Connell Oil only uses upscalemeats and cheeses, such as Land O’ Lakesand Dietz & Watson for its sandwiches,and a proprietary hot soup and entree program from Knorr Swiss it runs Septemberthrough May.

O’Connell Oil also creates its own specialty sandwiches in-house, but J. Polepbegan developing suggestions from itsown test kitchen about eight years ago.One of the creations to come out of testkitchens is the Turkey Gobbler, turkeybreast, turkey stuffing and cranberry sauce on a wrap or whole wheat.

Sandwiches and wraps typically retailbetween $3.99 to $5.49, but the companywill also offer bundle deals for customerslike a free Dasani water with the purchaseof a wrap or a Fruit 2O with a sandwich.

“It’s a really aggressive price that ourcustomers respond to. They only have somuch to spend on their meals, and theywant healthy drinks, food and to get inand out quickly,” said Gaudrault.

A few years ago O’Connell Oil wasearning in the vicinity of $300,000 annually in lunch and dinner foodservice. Sincelaunching Fresh & Fit about three yearsago, its been surpassing $1.5 million inannual sales. “Our philosophy is ‘Be thebest we can be, and view everyone outthere as competition,'” said Gaudrault. “Itdrives us to be more innovative and trynew things to improve our program withour vendors and suppliers.”

Two keys O’Connell holds responsiblefor its foodservice success are switchingto a more attractive, clamshell packagefor its sandwiches and opening up dedicated fax lines so customers can fax orders in ahead of time. Not only does this allowthe operation to flow more smoothly, thefax-in orders give associates a chance todevelop more personal relationships withcustomers.

“People eat with their eyes first. If asandwich or wrap looks appealing, it willsell itself. The clamshell packaging allowsus to present a tasty-looking product withthe condiments packed inside so customers can dress their sandwiches themselves,”said Gaudrault. “Enhancing personal relationships has been an unexpected bonusof adding fax-in orders. Time is preciousand our customers appreciate us accommodating them quickly. Our customersrealize they’re more than just a numberand we’ve received a lot of positive comments about it.”

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