Jerry Weiner’s experience and expertise drive the foodservice category at Rutter’s.
By John Lofstock, Editor
Category management is the lifeblood for success at convenience stores. Effective category management can drive higher margins, identify emerging sales trends, which products are in high demand and, perhaps most importantly, let you know what products are simply not selling.
Convenience Store Decisions is proud to honor three of the industry’s best when it comes to overseeing a key in-store category: Jerry Weiner, of Rutter’s; Greg Lorance, of Cumberland Farms; and Tim Cote, of Plaid Pantries Inc.
Each of these industry veterans is an unmitigated expert when it comes to category management and CSD is proud to honor their devotion to convenience retailing.
With more than 40 years of industry experience, Jerry Weiner has never been afraid to try new things or push the boundaries of innovation in the foodservice category.
The one key area where Weiner always seems to stand apart from many of his counterparts in the foodservice industry is having a vision of what the food business can be. He has never been content with just being good or rolling out a me-too strategy.
“I have been lucky in my career to have had the autonomy to do the things I believe in, and that is a credit to Scott Hartman and everyone at Rutter’s,” said Weiner, who serves as the vice president of foodservice at Rutter’s 60 convenience stores in Pennsylvania. “In the foodservice business, you must be able to see beyond your boundaries. Where you are today and where you can be in a year should be two very different places.”
This is especially true for convenience stores, which for years faced problems overcoming the perceptions customers had of convenience store foodservice items. “Those of us that have been in the industry since the 1970s and 1980s know full well that you have to execute at a high level to earn and maintain your customers’ trust,” Weiner said. “This is a shared responsibility for c-stores. We all need to operate at a high level to protect what we have achieved.”
This is no easy task. It requires finding the right employees, great training programs, investing in new foodservice equipment and even redesigning new stores to accommodate the food program. “The foodservice business requires you to be great, not just once or twice, but great every day at every location. That is not easy to do,” Weiner said.
“I have been approached through the years by vendors with new products that would have been absolute home runs in our stores, but you have to have confidence that every store is going to produce the same great experience for your customers, without exception. That means your employees at 2 a.m. at one store have to produce the same high quality items that your 9 a.m. employees are producing at another,” he added.
To achieve its foodservice goals, Rutter’s in 2008 began investing in new employees that already had an established background in foodservice. That meant recruiting employees away from more experienced QSRs and Panera Bread.
“This made a tremendous difference for us,” Weiner said. “Instead of having to train new employees to have a foodservice mindset, we were bringing in employees that already had training and understood the foodservice culture.”
The other area that made a difference at Rutter’s was investing in new equipment, specifically high-speed ovens and hold drawers for food warmers. “With these two pieces of equipment, a lot of doors were opened for us to not only expand the menu, but expand the menu with great items that would become destinations for us,” Weiner said. “At the end of the day, that’s what your customers want. They want great food from a great retailer, and that continues to be our goal every day.”