Chicken’s economical price and inherent flexibility gives convenience store retailers a myriad of opportunities for growing their foodservice business without sacrificing quality and value.
However, deciding whether your stores’ best interests are better served by a branded or proprietary chicken program requires an understanding of the benefits and drawbacks each model offers, said consultant John Matthews, president of Gray Cat Enterprises.
From a branded perspective, partnering with the likes of Chester’s, Broaster or Church’s gives immediate brand recognition. “You don’t have to do a lot of ramp up, and there’s also a trust that’s built into them,” Matthews said. “Consumers already know what quality to expect from these products.”
The drawbacks are that storeowners typically have no control over the products offered and could end up paying royalties and some of the advertising costs associated with the already branded birds.
Proprietary offerings, on the other hand, give storeowners much more control, and creating your own brand carries with it the opportunity to come up with a product that’s a true competitive differentiator. Another benefit is cost savings because there are no royalties or ad costs to bear, and if you are successful in creating your own brand, it carries a mystique with consumers that no one can take away from you.
Going it alone, however, is a whole lot more work, both initially and later on. “You’ve got to do your own marketing, figure out how to manage your chicken operation, train your employees and do it all yourself,” Matthews said. “Understand that you’re going up against the big boys, and you’ve got to create the same confidence in your brand.”
Diversity Pays Off
Famima USA, the 15-store chain based in Torrance, Calif., elected not only to develop its own brand, but to provide its customers with multiple chicken offerings as well. The company, a subsidiary of FamilyMart in Japan, has found the work that goes into developing its own brand is well worth the effort.
“Forty percent of our business comes from fresh food,” said Famima Vice President Pervez Pir. “We like to take the lead, not follow the herd. We have to find ways to make food unique because our customers are used to that.”
Pir’s company spends about three months getting a new product ready to introduce. “I know fast feeders often take 10-12 months to research new food offerings, but in the convenience industry, I don’t think we have the luxury of taking that long,” he said. “Consumers come in daily and they’re looking for something different, and if they don’t find it, they’re not going to come anymore.”
When it comes to new products, Famima removes an older chicken offering each time it introduces a new one. “It’s a balancing act,” Pir said. “Every day of every week, we analyze sales data to see what’s selling well and what’s not.”
Chicken is a core Famima item, and Famima’s decision to offer fried chicken was a no-brainer. “It’s the top-selling meat being sold out there. Why try and recreate the wheel?” he said. Famima wanted a grab-and-go, easy-to-eat chicken dish and decided that chicken nuggets filled the bill. Nuggets quickly became a best-selling product, so the company added fried potato wedges to go with them.
Test New Products
Pir said that chicken recipe innovation comes into play much more on the deli side. “We’re very fortunate in that one of our chefs is Indian and loves experimenting with different spices and flavors,” he said. “We didn’t start by asking her to create some dishes for us, though. We’re known for international cuisine. We went out into the marketplace, looked at what wasn’t readily available and went from there.”
For every prepared food item it sells, Famima also runs extensive taste tests, first in house and then with customers in its stores. The first market and recipe research result was chicken korma, a spicy chicken curry dish suitable for both lunch and dinner that comes with white rice and has been one of Famima’s most popular chicken items since its introduction almost three years ago.
When it comes to offering customers a variety of chicken dishes, Famima also excels. In addition to chicken korma and its fried chicken products, Famima currently offers chicken Alfredo; a chicken-and-mushroom steamy bun; a chicken panini; chicken cacciatore made with red and green bell peppers on top of a bed of fettuccine; a chicken cutlet rice bowl with a breaded chicken cutlet on a bed of rice complimented with sliced carrots, snap peas and drizzled in a light tonkatsu sauce; and a teriyaki chicken rice bowl.
“In our business, you have to watch the matrix. If you offer chicken, beef and shrimp, you can’t get rid of a shrimp dish, even if it’s a slow seller, unless you replace it with another shrimp dish or you’ll start losing your shrimp customers,” Pir said. “Diversity is key, but everything has to remain high quality.”
Pir reads about food trends and travels worldwide—most recently to a food show in Hong Kong—constantly on the lookout for new dishes Famima can sell. Currently, he’s working on developing a chicken pita as part of a growing pita line, a chicken pizza as part of a new pizza line and a Tandoori chicken sandwich as well.
Building a Better Chicken Sandwich
Sometimes spicing up chicken sales is a matter of focusing on one product rather than on many. For example, BP’s ampm stores, which had a chicken sandwich for a number of years, recently reformulated and improved its chicken sandwich offering, said Jon Brata, ampm’s director of proprietary brands.
Brata said ampm was getting good sales from its prior version, but felt there was an opportunity to improve both the quality and the quantity of the product and provide a more compelling food option for end customers.
“We’ve seen really fantastic results with this new product,” Bratta said. “We reformulated the flavor profile and increased the product’s size by about one-third, and that dramatically improved our sales.” It launched the new version in May, promoting it as “More Cluck for Your Buck.”
BP and ampm have numerous food development specialists and a category manager for hot prepared foods, as well as a senior category manager who oversees food development. “We generally work with our key suppliers during research and development, too,” Brata said. “It’s a partnership approach with our suppliers when we develop new items.”
Food Must Fit Store Profile
The foodservice model at ampm is basically grab-and -go items including hot dogs, hamburgers, rib sandwiches and corn dogs, in addition to the chicken sandwich. “Chicken sandwiches are generally popular in QSRs, and we felt we could play competitively with it,” Bratta said.
The sandwich is the only chicken product ampm currently sells. “I don’t know that you’d see us go into fried chicken right now,” Bratta observed, adding that while there might be other vehicles the company could sell chicken through, at the end of the day, they would have to have to be a good fit for its foodservice model.
“We’re always looking at new things but, for us to sell them, they have to work within our model and make sense for our franchisees to execute,” Bratta said. “They have to be something that fits in with our current preparation practices and also
meets our criteria for freshness and retention of the overall product quality, not to mention it has to be desired by our customers.” CSD
According to the National Chicken Council (NCC), Americans eat more than 86 pounds of chicken per capita per year, requiring chicken producers to raise nine billion chickens to meet market demand.
The most popular dish appears to be chicken wings. Wing sales surged 72.3% in a year’s time, according to a study conducted by the Perishables Group. Chicken breasts, on the other hand, slipped 2.7% indicating that some people may be substituting the less expensive wings.
Fifty-six percent of the chicken we eat is bought at grocery stores—the remaining 44% is consumed through foodservice.
“You may have a really great product,” said Elton Maddox, a foodservice consultant and former president of NCC. “But if it takes too long to prepare, it is just not going to fly. Convenience and versatility are the factors driving the market today, and chicken is quick and easy to prepare, tastes good and it’s good for you.”
Buffalo wings are a great story all by themselves, Maddox pointed out. “Buffalo wings are one of the most successful snack-type items since somebody first thought to put popcorn in a microwave,” he said.
One of the original convenience products was the chicken nugget, Maddox noted, one that premiered at the NCC-sponsored 1971 National Chicken Cooking Contest. Norma Young of Arkansas won the grand prize with her Dipper’s Nuggets Chicken, which used a piece of whole-muscle meat to make the nuggets and fried them in oil.
“Mrs. Young was a culinary pioneer that sparked a chicken revolution,” Maddox said.