While burgers, sausages and brats have long been c-store staples, you can dress them up so they’re your next foodservice stars.
By Marilyn Odesser-Torpey, Assistant Editor
At Rutter’s Farm Stores, purists can get their hamburgers and cheeseburgers au natural. But the York, Pa.-based c-store chain did not become a foodservice destination by playing it safe. In fact, burger buffs could visit the store every day for years and not get the same sandwich twice.
“Mathematically, we have about 40 billion options on our menu,” said Ryan Krebs, Rutter’s director of food services. “Burgers are one of our foundational items and our highest volume categories as well.”
All of the company’s burger creations start with a base of a one-third-pound, 100% Black Angus beef patty or a one-quarter-pound chipotle-flavored black bean patty.
Some of the innovations in Rutter’s Ultimate Burger category such as the French Fry Burger, the Fried Pickle Burger, the Pastrami Burger and the BBQ Beef Short Rib Burger are already on the permanent menu.
Last September, Rutter’s started a lot of buzz among its customers, on local news stations and on social media with the introduction of its Route 30 Burger, a single, or double or triple patties with cheese and bacon between two grilled cheese sandwiches (pictured above).
“We wanted an identifier, a signature item for Rutter’s and this has certainly been it,” Krebs said. “Sales of the Route 30 Burger are strong.”
If those aren’t wild enough, customers have their pick of anywhere between 50-70 other options such as additional meats and cheeses, fried mac-and-cheese bites, mozzarella sticks, cheese fries and crab cakes to pile on for their own customized Ultimate Burger.
“We create new burger offerings—and give our customers the opportunity to create their own—all the time by utilizing many of the items we already have in house,” he said.
THINKING OUTSIDE THE BUN
Offering even a few unique toppings can help operators stand out from the competition while also offering customers a unique, customizable experience, said Ann Golladay, senior project director at Datassential.
An idea that retailers might want to consider is the stuffed burger, Golladay suggested.
“Consumers have shown a high level of interest in burgers stuffed with cheeses and other ingredients such as veggies, herbs and spices,” Golladay said.
In a recent survey, Mintel market research learned that 47% of consumers want more premium burger buns at restaurants. The company’s Menu Insights report revealed the significant growth of pretzel, Kaiser and brioche buns on restaurant menus fourth quarter 2012 compared to the same period in 2015.
Half of the consumers also called for more varieties of cheeses for burgers and menus are showing a decrease on menus of the generic “cheese” description to the more specific mozzarella or pepper jack.
A burger (sans bun) is also the centerpiece for one of Rutter’s 12 Dinner Basket Meals that come with fries, mashed potatoes or hash browns; coleslaw or applesauce; and a dinner roll or biscuit to create more of a dinner experience, Krebs said. Rutter’s has 63 stores in south central Pennsylvania and, according to Krebs, is working on expanding through the mid-Atlantic. Fifty of the 63 stores feature full, made-to-order foodservice.
Datassential found that 64% of consumers are interested in purchasing burgers from convenience stores. That’s a 14% increase from 2012. Burgers are the fourth most frequently purchased prepared item from c-stores behind pizza, hot dogs and cold sandwiches.
With the blurring of dayparts, mealtimes and snacking occasions, burgers have become an all-day purchased item, Datassential found. Among consumers’ last hamburger bought from a c-store, one-third were consumed for breakfast.
Snack-size sliders are an easy way to bridge the dayparts, since the smaller sizes tend to be easier to eat on the go, Golladay pointed out. Rutter’s has had sliders on its menu for about seven years. They are available made with hamburger, fried chicken, meat ball, crab cake and chicken parmigiana in packages of one, three, six or 12 sliders. Krebs pointed out that they sell well especially between the snacking periods of 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Also available is a roller grill cheeseburger, another snack-time incentive.
MASTERING THE BASICS
65% of consumers reported to Datassential that they felt a really great burger starts with having truly great meat. So one way convenience chains can keep their stores top of mind when burger cravings strike is to call out that their burgers are Angus, all-natural, 100% pure beef or 80/20 beef, Golladay said. In a survey by the Mintel Group Ltd., 80% of consumers said they would be willing to pay more for burgers made with premium ingredients.
In addition to burgers, Rutter’s does a brisk business in sausages. To the menu that already featured smoked, fresh country-style and Rajun Cajun sausages as well as a variety of hot dogs, Krebs recently added smoked kielbasa as well a southwestern frank with black bean, corn and cumin “for something Latin and ethnic to spice up the roller grill.”
The offer of an assortment of side dishes can also boost burger sales, Datassential found.
“C-stores should be cognizant that it’s not just their burger that’s the driver, but the sides they offer that make it enjoyable,” the company reported.
Dallas-based Empire Petroleum Partners, which serves some 1,500 locations in 30 states, including some company-owned and operated convenience stores recently completed the development of a proprietary hamburger program with Sysco Foods’ convenience store division.
“They have a very good Angus burger that is pre-cooked and frozen, ready to be put in the convection oven, then wrapped and merchandised in a warmer near the cash register or fast food area, said Ted Roccagli, director of partnerships and preferred vendor programs for Empire.
Tested in July in 12 of the company stores, the burgers will be made available system-wide sometime in August. Sysco has also worked with Empire to develop a proprietary sausage program, which also recently completed a test run and will be available system-wide at the same time.
Roccagli noted that even the most basic burger, sausage and brat programs should include a “build-your-own” component whether there is a fully-stocked condiment bar at the convenience store or simply a good assortment of add-on packets for customers to select from.
In addition to the traditional fresh onion, jalapeño peppers, relish, mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup, Roccagli suggested having a nacho cheese and chili dispenser on the condiment bar. Buns, he said, are also integral to the success of the programs.
“The buns have to be fresh and warm, and stored in the warmer in a moist environment,” Roccagli said. “If you don’t pay attention to the condiments and the buns, you might as well unplug your roller grill and put it in the back room.”
Customers can get their condiments two ways at Rutter’s. They can select from the 50 different toppings, including guacamole, sour cream, black bean salsa and five different salad dressings at the made-to-order kiosk. Or, they can pick up some condiment packets at the point of sale.