Few categories offer convenience store retailers a brighter financial future than foodservice. In fact, Technomic’s “Convenience Stores Market Intelligence Report,” found that c-stores continue to serve as a prime destination for younger generations and people seeking fast, on-the-go options.
But there is one catch: foodservice must be done well. In fact, food quality, the experience at a convenience store and the presentation of the food itself ranked higher to customers than price, the report found.
That is an extremely powerful message, but when you look at the industry’s leaders in foodservice, this isn’t simply a message, it is the mission.
Eighteen years ago, I sat down with Dave Thomas, the founder of the Wendy’s chain to interview him about his retail strategy. One of the first things he said to me was, “You know why our hamburgers are square? Because we don’t cut corners.”
That was in 1997. Over nearly two decades, many things have changed about the way a foodservice program is executed, but that philosophy has not. The retailers winning the battle for foodservice dollars offer good food, value and convenience and they always will.
Getting it Right
In the highly competitive foodservice industry, c-store retailers must do everything possible to entice customers to try new products and return for more, without negatively impacting why the stores exist: to provide convenience.
Whatever level of food you feel comfortable delivering—the simplest or the most complicated—just deal with fresh, quality and value. But the ultimate piece is consistency. You have to be able to deliver great food consistently.
What’s more, this doesn’t necessarily need to be elegant upscale menu items. It’s whatever you feel you can do consistently. If you are comfortable selling sandwiches, sell the best sandwiches you can. If it’s fried chicken, have the best fried chicken in the market. It is a rigorous endeavor, but this is where our industry is going and it’s certainly what the market leaders are currently doing.
For several years, surveys have reported that customers want healthier fast foods. According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), three out of four adults—including 80% of women—said they want to see healthier items on quick-service restaurant (QSR) menus, and some leading chains are taking action. Burger King launched “Satisfries,” a lower-calorie version of the chain’s conventional French fries, and McDonald’s rolled out a breakfast sandwich, the Egg White Delight, made with cooked egg whites. The burger chain also introduced a plan to reduce sodium by an average of 15% across the menu board.
Veteran convenience retailer 7-Eleven, with more than 8,000 North American stores, now offers fresh foods, including fruits, cut vegetables and commissary-created salads and sandwiches. La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip now distributes fresh foods from its own commissary and is popular locally as a source of fresh bananas.
But again, it all comes down to being consistently great. Consider Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes, now a division of CST Brands. The chain offers an extensive line of hot and cold sandwiches and meal solutions around the clock.
“We don’t have a dedicated person, we have a dedicated staff,” Dr. Jack Cushman, the chain’s executive vice president of foodservice, once told me.
And, at the end of the day, that’s what will determine whether a foodservice program is actually successful.
“We are in the foodservice business to be great. We expect nothing less,” Cushman said. “But that’s not something we just hope for. We work really hard at it every day. The goal is to never have an unsatisfied customer. You do that with great food, a great staff, listening to what your customers want and exceeding their expectations.“
It’s not easy, but when you do it consistently, you’re rewarded with a stream of repeat business, and that is how you set yourself up for a successful future.