Fresh Foods, Fast Service

Burgers, brats and sausages continue to drive sales among core convenience store consumers.

By Howard Riell, Associate Editor

Convenience dining is on the rise and the demand for sandwiches is jumping. Americans’ love of burgers, sausage and brats is creating plenty of opportunity for convenience stores, where lunch and dinner solutions anchor the menu.

The enduring popularity of burgers, sausage and brats was attested to recently by Chicago-based research and consulting firm Technomic Inc., whose Category Close-Up on barbecue showed how increasingly prevalent they are on menus across the nation.

Executives at Tedeschi Food Shops in Rockland, Mass., are apparently listening. In April, the company rolled out a sausage sub with roasted green and red peppers and onions to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Boston’s Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox baseball franchise.

“This is only the beginning of many exciting seasonally and locally relevant sandwiches at Tedeschi Food Shops,” said Tedeschi’s Director of Fresh Foods Bob Goodwin.

The family owned and operated convenience store chain, with more than $600 million in annual revenue, operates 190 locations throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. It was also named Convenience Store Decisions’ 2012 Convenience Store Chain of the Year.

“Honestly, the sausages have been extremely successful, but there is a cultural type of change that we’re trying to make take place, and it’s going to be gradual. In other words, folks are much more used to coming in and getting a cold sandwich and then eating it out in the car and doing whatever they’re doing,” Goodwin said. “To get them to take it from the fresh case to a microwave has been a little bit of a challenge.”

Fast and Fresh

Offering fresh, high quality food to customers has always been a major priority at Tedeschi.

“The bottom line on burgers, hot dogs and things like that is that we want to freshly cook everything right there for the customer,” Goodwin said. “We’ve never wanted to be in the roller business; we’ve never wanted things to roll around for hours at a time. They become unsightly.  Our idea is cooking them fresh.”

The chain has managed to transition many of its customers from cold to hot foods like burgers, sausages and brats and even freshly-prepared chicken through the creative use of signage and point of purchase materials. The promotion helped raise awareness and boost sales.

Tedeschi followed up with another successful hot item: a Cuban sandwich. “It also was in line with warm foods, like our steak and cheese sandwich,” said Goodwin.

More menu items followed and have done well. “The point is, don’t try to do one thing in hot foods and sandwiches. Make sure you have enough critical mass of six or eight things so now you have a section with the customer being drawn towards it,” Goodwin said.

Naturally, hot sandwiches work best during the winter months, but they’re also boosting sales the rest of the year as well. As Goodwin confirmed, “the sausages fit nicely into the summertime, too.”

When it comes to selling more food, Goodwin advised developing alliances and strategic partnerships with some of your key vendors that might help you market your products.

“That’s what happened with the sausage. We worked with Kayem Distributors, who had the rights to everything at Fenway Park and the 100th anniversary,” Goodwin said. “So my advice would be don’t be afraid to pull the trigger on a good idea. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Work with your vendors to see what other strategic alliances they might have.”

What Goodwin called “the other little selling point” has to do with products that hold meaning for customers. “It’s not just whatever alliance or partnership you might create there, but it’s also about local relevance,” he said. “That’s another key piece of the puzzle for us—to work within our geographical areas to see who’s the best at what they do and understand what kind of relevance their products have locally. From there, we will either work to develop an item to compete with them or try to work their offering into our stores.”

Pushing Food All Day

Overall, convenience stores remain a growing competitor for foodservice dollars, especially as the breakfast daypart continues to emerge as a key growth area for the foodservice industry.

While the outlook is strong, there is still work to do. For example, a report by Mintel suggested there is a large gap in c-store foodservice programs, which has propelled top-quartile chains and hurt those with an undefined foodservice strategy.

Furthermore, while foodservice is a destination at many c-store chains, Mintel research found that 33% of consumers who have never purchased food at a c-store haven’t done so because they believe the food is of low quality.

“When consumers think of convenience stores, food quality isn’t the first thing that comes to mind,” said Eric Giandelone, director of foodservice research at Mintel. “Improved quality—not just for products but for service, location and marketing communications—is needed to bring in or bring back consumers for whom c-stores aren’t top-of-mind choices.”

Of those who don’t purchase processed food at convenience stores, 64% said they never or rarely consider purchasing food from a c-store. Meanwhile, 32% said the food was not appealing to them and 26% cited high prices as a deterrent. Thirty-five percent reported that there were better food options nearby.

While c-stores are always going to face stiff competition from restaurants and fast-food establishments, the industry appears to have the upper hand.

“Luckily, convenience stores suffered less than restaurants did during the recession,” Giandelone said.

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