Roller Grill Trends Toward Innovation, Made to Order

roller grill In 2014, convenience stores are finding they can up their foodservice profile with specialty sausages, a range of breakfast options and different bun types, such as biscuits.

“Roller grill offerings have really evolved and expanded in recent years. While hot dogs remain a staple, c-store operators are offering a broader range of items that meet consumer interests in ethnic foods and flavors and also tap into different day parts,” said Donna Hood Crecca, senior director for foodservice research firm Technomic Inc. “Specialty hot dogs and roller grill items with Mexican or Asian flavor profiles are on-trend, and are appealing, not only at meal times, but also for the increasingly important snack occasion.”

Crecca pointed to chains such as 7-Eleven, which has shown innovation on the roller grill with items such as its Chicken Chipotle Taquito, and Zarco USA, which has done a strong breakfast business with help from items such as hash browns. Providing increased options for customization around breading and condiment choices also continues to be a trend in 2014.

“Even with these variations, we are tracking increased consumer interest in made-to-order offerings in convenience stores,” said Crecca. 
This trend toward made-to-order and fresh food offerings has inspired some c-stores into doing away with roller grill entirely, just as others are expanding its presence. 

Emphasizing Fresh
Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes, for example, did away with its roller grill program in favor of focusing on its skyrocketing fresh foods offerings. “We did have roller grill, but we threw out more than we bought, and our fresh foods grew double digits the entire time,” noted Jack Cushman, executive vice president food services for Nice N Easy with 81 locations in upstate New York.

Zarco USA, with nine c-stores in Kansas, has also moved to made-to-order foodservice. “We only have roller grill at one location,” said Scott Zaremba, founder and president of  Zarco USA. “At our other locations we’ve moved to touchscreen ordering and we prepare the hot dogs made-to-order for each customer. Most of our stores are in urban areas, but the store off the highway sees a lot more truck drivers so we decided to keep the roller grill.”
Cenex Zip Trip, meanwhile, does a strong roller grill program for all dayparts that include a Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage (complimented by sausage gravy or maple syrup), Angus all beef hot dogs and a variety of spicy sausages.

“Our strategy in 2014 on roller grill items focuses on promoting new flavor profiles, two-for deals and bundling roller grill products with complementary items from the same daypart,” said Jon Fleck, merchandising manager for Cenex Zip Trip, which has 68 company-operated stores. ◆

Sizing Up The Roller Grill

■ Some 33% of consumers say they prefer hot lunch items
ready-made and available on a roller grill, according to Technomic Inc.

■ Roller grill sales skews toward the male demographic (40% male vs. 26% female).

■ Roller grill also skews toward younger consumers. Some 41% of Gen Z and 40% of Millennials expressed a preference for roller grill, as opposed to 30% of Gen X and 30% of Baby Boomers saying the same.  Source:  Technomic Inc., 2014.

■  Not convinced you need breakfast sausages on your roller grill? Spending on breakfast outpaced the lunch, dinner and snack dayparts, per capita, as it increased 8% from 2007-2012. Limited-service breakfast grew at more than double the rate (11%) of full-service breakfast (5%), according to Packaged Facts research director David Sprinkle. He attributed the growth to a combination of consumer trade down, increasing limited-service breakfast availability and variety, and the needs of on-the-go consumers.

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