Sophisticated customers are demanding foodservice programs that keep the menu fresh by rotating options and adding new products and flavors.
Dan Rotherham, director of operations at Feather Petroleum Inc., which operates 18 Stop ‘n Save c-stores in Colorado, has seen firsthand how adding new products and streamlining store menus has helped business.
“We strive to keep everything fresh,” Rotherham said. “Customers like to try new things. At the majority of our locations we prepare the food fresh, including breakfast sandwiches that we make onsite, doughuts, pastries, pizza, burritos, and at some locations we also have hamburgers.”
Stop ‘n Save began offering Tres Picosos breakfast burritos shortly after they debuted in 2005 with great results. “We have a few stores with a strong Hispanic customer base. The breakfast burritos are geared toward Hispanics and we’ve found customers are grabbing one or two for breakfast and sometimes they’ll grab two or three for lunch as well.”
Following up on that success, Rotherham will roll out Tres Picosos into his highest volume store where he recently added Hunt Brothers pizza. “We were looking to revamp the food offering at this store,” he said. “Our No. 1 offering at that location was our sandwiches and now it’s our pizza. Once we add Tres Picosos, it will make it a complete offering.”
After adding the pizza program, Stop ‘n Save streamlined its menu and discontinued items that had been around for a long time, such as potato skins, in favor of programs that were easier to run and more profitable. The company also works to include items that appeal to a variety of customer groups, such as soccer moms and the wide Hispanic population, in addition to the base male c-store consumer.
For example, Tres Picosos’ egg, spinach & feta wrap, which features healthier ingredients and bilingual packaging, is geared especially toward vegetarian, health conscious, female and Hispanic consumers alike.
The flavor profile is very important, Rotherham noted, adding that customers like to sample different products.
C-store operators continue to crave foodservice insight and look to suppliers to share their industry knowledge to stay ahead of foodservice trends. Henry Leach, director of retail operations for Lard Oil, noted that branded foodservice programs—because of their years of industry experience—offer good support when it comes to incorporating new trends customers are seeking.
Lard Oil, which manages 18 c-stores in southeastern Louisiana runs a variety of foodservice programs at its stores, including a Subway and Krispy Krunchy Chicken. It also has Hunt Brothers Pizza at four of its sites, and is preparing to add pizza to a fifth store before the end of the year.
Leach praised the Hunt Brothers offering because it rotates in innovative and limited-time only products on a regular basis. For example, Lard Oil recently added Hunt’s new wings products to several stores and balances it with an ice cream offering. The chicken offering helped increase foodservice sales at those stores. “Customers perceive it as a good value product,” he said. “We have one store showing a big increase and the other stores have stopped the recession-based decreases. Plus, it’s an alternative besides pizza.”
Lard Oil is looking to further expand its options under the Hunt Brothers program to keep the offering fresh and friendly. In the works could be a dessert treat, such as cinnamon sticks.
“We’d like to include something that can be eaten on-the-go, because that’s what we’re good at,” Leach said.
When implementing innovative ideas into the foodservice program, it’s important to remember to revitalize the beverage section regularly as well.
In its beverage section, Stop ‘n Save offers a number of Hispanic beverages, including Jarritos and Jumex Nectars in the cooler section, and warm Horchata, a Mexican drink made with almonds, rice, cinnamon, sugar and lime, at the coffee bar. To keep the beverage selection interesting for consumers, the chain also offers seasonal cappuccinos, coffees and creamers. “We also have our staples that we offer year round, but during the holiday season, for example, we offer a pumpkin spice flavored creamer,” Rotherham noted.
While customers may be quick to test new products, it also helps to get the word out about new offerings.
Finding programs that provide assistance with marketing also is a big help to driving sales. Branded programs often help by offering fliers and signage that can inform customers about the new options.
Stop ‘n Save participates in a pizza fund-raising campaign, through which schools, cub scouts and other groups can raise donations for various causes helped drive customers into the stores. “We return $1.50-$2.00 for a pizza every time they produce a frequent purchase deal and the campaign runs for five weeks. The whole community gets behind the initiative, so it generates sales at the stores,” Rotherham said.
Retailers looking to develop an innovative foodservice offering should look to keep things simple and find products with little waste or labor involved, Rotherham added.
Appealing to customer trends doesn’t end with food and drink. One growing trend is the focus on sustainability. In grocery stores across the country, for example, many customers are opting to use reusable bags instead of traditional paper and plastic, and companies, such as Starbucks are feeding into this trend, even announcing on its coffee cups and sleeves the amount of recyclable paper used in making the items.
With more shoppers backing sustainability efforts, being mindful of eco-friendly choices when it comes to bags and non-biodegradable containers could be a way to market toward consumer values, especially among younger customers.
Solo Cup Co., for one, has been influenced by the sustainability trend, expanding its Bare by Solo line of eco-forward single-use products to include deli containers and lids made with 20% post-consumer recycled polyethylene (PET) plastic. In addition, Bare by Solo has introduced plates, bowls and takeout containers made with sugarcane, a renewable material. Called Sugarcane Dinnerware, the ivory-colored plates and bowls come in a one-piece, hinged clamshell design, and provide an environmentally-preferable alternative to polystyrene foam containers. The company is targeting c-store foodservice programs to grow the product lines.
With any offering, be it beverages, foodservice or the packaging used, alerting customers to new additions is an important part of showing customers your stores are a place where they can find fresh and trendy options. “We want to be the place customers think of first when it comes to getting a fresh meal,” Rotherham said.CSD