“The traditional hot dog will always have its place; it will never go away,” said Ted Roccagli, director of partnerships and preferred vendor programs for Dallas-based Empire Petroleum Partners. “But now, customers expect to find an assortment of other roller grill options as well.”
In its “C-Store Keynote Report” published in July 2016, Datassential research company found that hot dogs were the roller grill choice of 56% of surveyed consumers. Next most liked were egg rolls/spring rolls (43%) and taquitos/roller burritos/etc. (45%). That etcetera can cover a lot of tasty territory.
In stores that operate the most successful roller grill programs, customers will find an ever-changing array of innovative items such as corn dogs, breaded white-meat chicken roller bites, cheeseburger roller bites and all kinds of sausages including jalapeño and cheese varieties, Roccagli pointed out.
For companies that do them right, roller grill programs can still be very popular with customers and profitable for convenience stores, he noted.
There’s no cookie cutter product set that works for all stores when it comes to what roller grill items to stock, explained Roccagli, who works with 1,600 Empire Petroleum retail partners in 32 states. Just like every category, operators have to keep a close eye on what sells and what doesn’t to know which items to keep and which ones to discontinue.
Freshness is another factor that can motivate a customer to purchase (or not purchase) roller grill items. Thirty-one percent of the respondents in the Datassential survey said they would like to see an indicator of how much time an item has been on the roller grill.
Roccagli explained that, in reality, it might take some time and multiple visits for customers to trust the freshness of the roller grill food.
He pointed to sampling roller grill items both inside the stores and at the pumps as an effective way to jumpstart the building of that trust. He also recommended taking a couple of hours one day a week to offer free samples, such as a hot dog or sausage cut into thirds for each portion.
“Studies have shown that about 70% of people who come to fuel up at the pumps don’t come inside the stores,” Roccagli said. “So taking samples out to them can be just the thing to persuade them to come inside, not just to buy that roller grill product, but to see what else you have that might be of interest. In my experience, sampling has worked very, very well.”
Special pricing and bundling can also move more roller grill products, according to the Datassential report. Twenty-four percent of the respondents said that a combo deal would motivate them to purchase a roller grill item.
Roccagli agreed that bundling a hot dog with a bag of chips of choice and a fountain drink has always been an effective sales strategy. So is a two-for offer such as charging $2 for two roller grill items.