It’s not enough to have great-tasting offerings in today’s competitive marketplace. It also takes savvy marketing to determine the difference between lackluster and stellar foodservice sales.
By Marilyn Odesser-Torpey, Associate Editor
Planting the foodservice seed with consumers should happen before customers walk in your front door, said a report from Datassential. The research company learned that 77% of consumers have at least some idea of what they want to purchase from a c-store before they even enter the store.
“This highlights the importance of advertisement and marketing that happens outside the store and reaches customers before they are even hungry or looking to purchase food or a beverage,” said Ann Golladay, Datassential’s senior project director.
Forty-three percent of respondents in the Datassential survey said they make an impulse purchase once in-store, buying something in addition to or as a replacement for what they had planned on purchasing. That gives retailers another opportunity to use other marketing tools to tempt them.
“Packaging and displays near the checkout are major factors in influencing impulse purchases and should be better utilized for foodservice items,” Golladay said.
RaceTrac Petroleum Inc., which operates more than 660 convenience stores in 12 southern U.S. states under the RaceTrac and RaceWay names, uses everything from roadside billboards and pumptoppers to digital and A-frame signs at its front doors to communicate its extensive fresh food offering to drivers and guests. All of the above plus radio are used to carry out large campaigns like one last April on chef-created sandwiches, said Bart Stransky, the company’s executive director of merchandising.
In-store signage and graphics continue to drive the cohesive campaign message. The signage calls out its fresh sandwiches and wraps with food photos in prominent permanent places. Special promotions are highlighted on the MTO (made-to-order) touchscreen used for foodservice ordering at RaceTrac, where offered. And the kitchen itself underscores the fresh message as customers see their food being prepared.
Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, because its c-stores are all double drive-throughs with no in-store interaction, Broomall, Pa.-based Swiss Farms Stores, which has 13 locations in the Philadelphia area, uses various kinds of marketing tools to reach customers in their homes and in their cars. Radio spots run every week, for example.
“Radio is synergistic with our drive-through business because most people listen to the radio in their cars,” explained Jackie Daley, Swiss Farms’ director of marketing.
Direct mail, usually with a coupon, is a tool the company uses on a quarterly basis to promote its fresh foods. At present, the direct mail is sent to homes located within a 10-mile radius of the stores.
The stores also advertise in their local newspapers, especially in the Swiss Farms store-dense Delaware County area. They have done everything from regular ads to entire inserts.
Local bloggers have proven to be a great source of word-of-mouth advertising, Daley said. Swiss Farms advertises on some of the bloggers’ sites while others simply promote the stores because they shop there and like them.
Swiss Farms added homestyle grab-and-go, eat now or heat up later foodservice to its stores about three years ago. It has been constantly beefing up its promotion in this category ever since, according to Daley.
Outside at street level, LED marquees remind customers about the fresh foods available in the stores. In-lane signage and menus feature high quality photography of the foods.
“We want to make customers salivate,” Daley said.
On the signage are also suggested pairings such as a hoagie, chips and a pint of iced tea to encourage add-on sales. For back-to-school time, the company is also launching a kids’ lunch box program to make it easy and convenient for on-the-go parents and their children to make healthful mealtime choices. The lunch box is comprised of a half-sandwich, one side and a juice box.
Before customers ever get in the drive-through lanes they can see and order Swiss Farms’ fresh foods on the company’s Website and on a mobile app, which it introduced about three years ago.
RaceTrac launched its RaceTrac Rewards app at the end of this past April. The program offers multiple monthly coupons, including some for foodservice, and the opportunity to earn points on nearly all purchases in-store and at the pump, which guests can redeem for various rewards. While the coupons offered through the RaceTrac Rewards app are unique to the app, guests without smartphones can take advantage of exclusive sneak peeks and special offers through the opt-in RaceTrac Insider Email Program.
“We want to provide value and learn a little bit more about our guests,” Stransky said.
“The information from the app will help us to segment people so we can give them the most individualized and best experience. For example, we don’t want to send a hot dog coupon to a person who only gets breakfast sandwiches here,” he added.
Customers spend at least triple per transaction when they order through a mobile or online device, than when they drive up, park the car and go into a store, said Arlene Spiegel, founder and president of New York-based Arlene Spiegel & Associates restaurant and hospitality consulting firm.
Spiegel suggested partnering with an online ordering technology company such as Zuppler to integrate front-and-back-end systems.
“Convenience store retailers are not in the computer business, so partners like this can make the transaction easy for the customer and seamless for the store,” Spiegel said.
She emphasized that apps are a good investment for c-stores because they allow customers to shop from anywhere and keep the retailer’s logo (and brand) top of mind.
“When you think about the couple of thousand dollars it takes to create a great app and amortize that over one hour of sales, it could pay for itself,” she said.
Using what Spiegel calls “the Amazon model,” apps allow retailers to engage in some suggestive selling.
“What pops up is what the customer ordered the last time along with ‘customers who liked this product also liked these products’ hints,” she said.
Apps are only one of the technologies that can keep customers engaged with a store or brand. Every Monday, Swiss Farms sends out a weekly circular via email with links to the week’s sale items. The emails include foodservice descriptions and offers.
“For our past three circulars, we saw a 21-28% open rate of customers looking through them,” Daley said.
On the Internet, Swiss Farms tempts the foodies who frequent Instagram with eye-catching photos of its fresh prepared selections. On Facebook, the company does not sell specific products, according to Daley, it sells mealtime solutions.
“For example, we might offer grilling tips or have Audrey, our registered dietitian, help them to avoid food temptations over the summer,” she said.
RaceTrac locations with strong foodservice programs do in-store product sampling and also use a scripted sampling program to introduce food products to neighboring businesses.
“We send out trays, aprons and write-off forms to the stores so they can accurately track the amount of product they use for sampling,” Stransky said.
Recently, Swiss Farms kicked off Sample Sundays, where customers in the drive-through lanes are offered tastings of the stores’ food items between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Managers will often walk around nearby apartment complexes distributing coupons, fresh food samples and menus. And the company does heavy couponing and product sampling at community events.