Pilot Steers Its On-the-Go Program Forward

Shannon Johnson

While Pilot Flying J is known for adding some dash to its foodservice, Shannon Johnson is ensuring the program is around for the long haul.

By David Bennett, Senior Editor

Over-the-road truckers and even the local commuter on the run can be challenged to eat a healthy diet and by the monotony of fast food.

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Pilot Flying J, which has a network comprising more than 750 retail locations across North America, has built its reputation as a provider of on-the-road amenities and has steadily improved the quality of its on-the-go offerings over the years. In 2017, Pilot hired Shannon Johnson as vice president of food innovation to expand the potentiality of the whole program. He recently provided CSD a snapshot of the latest additions.

CSD: What can Pilot customers expect in terms of changes to Pilot Flying J’s grab-and-go program in 2018?
SJ: In 2018, Pilot Flying J guests will continue to see an increased variety within the grab-and-go space, including new fresh salad and sandwich options. Throughout the year, we will also focus on bringing the convenience of our grab-and-go offerings to additional locations across our footprint, with an intentional focus on daypart and seasonal items.

CSD: How has the pursuit of freshness affected Pilot’s grab-and-go program since you came on board?
SJ: At Pilot Flying J, we are committed to listening to the needs of our guests while on the road and know fresh food is a top priority. With this in mind, we continue to develop new grab-and-go menu items to increase overall choice and operational flexibility. We know the purchase decisions of our guests are all occasion-based and therefore are focused on enhancing our selection to offer the best quality grab-and-go items that also meet the most frequent occasions.

CSD: Since enlisting Chef Tim Love’s expertise to infuse some spice into the company’s fast-casual dining concept, PJ Fresh, how has his methodology influenced the way the company approaches on-the-go offerings?
SJ: The relationship with Chef Tim Love has intensified our focus on delicious, high quality offerings that have a portable element as well. These items are all “road ready” and “crave-worthy.” We are excited to rollout Chef Tim Love’s new items this year at all Pilot Flying J locations.

CSD: Because of the company’s evolving approach to providing new flavors and food experiences, is there an increased emphasis on the types of options Pilot customers can expect when they visit the grab-and-go case now?
SJ: Grab-and-go cases will always be well stocked with high quality, beautifully presented, delicious food that requires no prior planning or wait times when travelers need to rush in and rush out. Our focus on new flavors and food experiences is just one of many ways we continue to elevate the overall guest experience and provide travelers even more options while on the road.

CSD: Can you characterize the way in which walk-up kiosks, now being rolled out in some locations for in-store self-serve ordering, are shaping deli and on-the-go choices at Pilot?
SJ: The kiosks are a dynamic communication tool that allows us to display our menus through descriptive text and captivating food photography. Guests can visually see their food options and then communicate with team members directly on their customized food order—made just the way our guests like it. In a world where accuracy is critical, this clear communication sets the stage for us to surprise and delight our guests, while helping our team offer ultimate freshness and quality through our best in class execution and service delivery.

CSD: Aside from self-ordering kiosks, what other design elements has the company invested in to ensure a high-quality, on-the-go program?
SJ: We continue to invest heavily in our new PJ Fresh Marketplace locations to offer enhanced seating, bold digital menu boards, Wi-Fi and a bright well-lit environment for our guests. With PJ Fresh Marketplace, Pilot Flying J prides itself on providing guests with high-quality meals and on-the-go food options, most of which are prepared in-store daily. These elevated offerings through our PJ Fresh Marketplace are an effort to support the guests’ enjoyment of our vast array of food and beverages offerings—every day.