Forget that crusty, old buttered roll grandpa picked up atthe corner store to complementhis morning coffee back in the day.Forget about those tiny bags of pretzelsor chips that used to suffice as a “meal onthe go” during a time pinch. Those itemsshould be locked in a c-store museum, onlyto be gawked at by groups of awe-stricken children as they try to comprehend howrough their elders had it.
Today’s convenience stores are notonly offering vast amounts of varietywhen it comes to their foodservice offerings, but they’ve also learned ways todo it right—serving up restaurant-quality grub faster than it takes the customerto read the menu. The trick to operating these successful foodservice programslies in the equipment retailers are usingto make high-quality food a conveniencestore reality.
Nobody knows this better than Altoona,Pa.-based Sheetz. The 334-store chain hasmade a reputation for itself by veeringaway from a simple daypart foodserviceoffering to providing a full “conveniencerestaurant” option to its customers, serving everything from hot sandwiches, subsand burgers to fries, chicken fingers andhot breakfast items.
When a chain develops a menu asextensive as Sheetz, conflicts betweenspeed and service are bound to arise. Butaccording to Keith Boston, director of culinary development, a key factor in Sheetz’ssuccess has been finding equipment thatoffers speed, low labor costs and qualityin a relatively small space.
“There’s always going to be a need toreduce the amount of time it takes to makea transaction so we are always looking toincrease the speed of service,” Boston said.”If you have a crowded store and a customer can still get in, grab what they wantand get out within two or three minutes,that’s a huge success.”
In order to make the most out of thetwo or three minutes it has to satisfy customers, Sheetz is constantly looking forinnovative technology. For example, highspeed combination ovens allow Sheetz toperform the vast majority of the culinarytasks required for its elaborate offering.
“Labor concerns are always an issue,”Boston said. “With the TurboChef Tornadoovens we use, we have one platform thatquickly handles multiple cooking tasks,but it’s only one piece of equipment thatemployees need to be trained on.”
The Tools Needed to Succeed
The c-store foodservice landscapeis littered with a bevy of equipment forassorted purposes. And while somemachines—such as ovens—are startingto consolidate features to leave a smallerfootprint behind the counter and increaselabor efficiency, the most important aspectof foodservice technology lies in knowingwhat kind of a program the store is running, said Todd Griffith, national accountsmanager for Alto-Shaam, a provider ofcommercial kitchen equipment.
“A lot of retailers are still trying to findwhat works for them,” Griffith said. “The mindset in retail lies in thequestion, ‘Is my store a convenience market, a foodservicedestination or somewhere inbetween?’”
Knowing which offering your store stands forwill help you select the rightequipment. Since there areso many niche offerings inthe retail market, each storeneeds to be properly outfitted with the gear it needs tocompete effectively. Someretailers find success in simply offering microwaveable breakfast sandwiches servedunder heat lamps, while others are trying to compete withlocal quick service restaurantsin the lunch and dinner dayparts. No matter what theneed is, the proper equipment is key.
For Sheetz, space-efficient equipment was thepriority.
“One of our biggest concerns is finding equipmentthat’s compatible with allof our locations,” Boston said.”We have some stores that aresmaller than others, and thechallenge there comes fromvolume. Why bring in a huge,hulking oven that’s goingto suck up more power for astore that doesn’t support thatkind of volume? That’s whenthe smaller, quicker ovens thatdo more work for less powerand labor come in handy.”
The Advent of the Oven
Dallas-based TurboChef realizes the need for high-functionality equipment in the kitchen which is why it introduced its line of ovens:the Tornado, which cooks 12 times faster than conventional ovens; the versatile C3, which has the capabilities of cooking just about any product c-stores can throw in it; and the High H Batch, which cooks dough- and pastry-based goods—such as pizza and cookies—at twice the speed of a conventional oven.
TurboChef has been working its way into the c-store market over the past few years, experiencing a boom in popularity in the last year.
“Our sales in the c-store market have been slowly sizzling. In the past year they’ve exploded,” said Chef Steve Crellin, TurboChef’s regional sales director for the Northeast.
Because of the ease and simplicity of the equipment available, Crellin has noticed more retailers offering some sort of hot foodservice product to their customers. “Recent surveys show that 67% of the sandwiches sold in the market place on a daily basis are served heated or toasted,” he said. “It seems like everyone has been trying to get into the market can provide.”