Quality Equipment Yields Superior Food

Equipment that caters to the needs of c-stores can help elevate a program to new heights.

Convenience store foodservice has come a long way in recent years, and equipment is a big reason why. With advances in speed, durability and technology, foodservice equipment now allows convenience stores to provide food that is fast and high quality, two things that used to be mutually exclusive.

“If you look at the evolution over time and the trends that have helped take food from restaurants into the convenience sector, equipment has enabled it,” said Mike Sherlock, vice president and chief food and beverage officer at Wawa, which operates 750 stores in the Northeast and in central Florida. “Whether it’s quick cooking technology, convection cooking or high-quality espresso equipment that’s fully- or semi-automated; years ago, you would think you could only find that at a high-quality restaurant or beverage shop. Now you can find something available that you wouldn’t have expected years ago.”

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As food and equipment technology has increased, there have been increases in the quality of grab-and-go, breakfast and snack items.

“Manufacturers are getting better at fully-prepared, quality foods,” said Ryan Krebs, director of food service at Rutter’s Farm Stores. “There are ovens that do sous vide, roast, baste, put grill marks on—it comes out like that already finished. I can put it in my TurboChef and have it come out that way. The fact that manufacturers have gotten better at preparing finished products has been a win.”

That’s why MFA Oil worked with Antunes to install Antunes’ Egg Station with Dual Zones in its BreakTime stores in Arkansas and Missouri beginning in November 2016. The Egg Station allowed MFA Oil to increase its cooking quantity because the range has two cooking zones and the ability to cook different portions at the same time. It can also cook up to 12 eggs at once and uses heat and steam to provide a consistent product, giving BreakTime an easier way to prepare egg dishes.

“We were frying eggs on flat top griddles in some locations and using frozen egg product in others,” said Stephanie Mahoney, food services development manager at MFA Oil.
Since adding the Egg Station, which Mahoney said is “simple to operate, easy to clean and provides consistent results,” MFA Oil launched a breakfast sandwich program, which led to a 30% increase in fast food sales.

That success led MFA Oil to upgrading other foodservice areas, including
“transitioning to conveyor toasters, commercial refrigeration, freezers and high-speed ovens,” said Mahoney.

As companies look to upgrade equipment in search of faster food delivery, they should consider ease of use, space and output as well as speed.

“Speed is good to a certain degree because a conventional oven is not going to work in a convenience store,” Krebs said. It’s also best to consider equipment with multiple uses when possible.

“If it has one use and it’s a toaster, that makes sense, but if it’s something that takes up a lot of space and only does one function, it doesn’t have as much value considering the footprint we have in each location.”

Manufacturers are listening and delivering products for c-stores for smaller spaces with high output needs.

“The end product is all about quality, speed and affordability and how we can deliver a high-quality product for our customers as fast as possible and how we can do so at an affordable price, “Sherlock said. “So we need equipment that is operationally efficient, works well in our environment and doesn’t take up a lot of footprint. We’re very high volume and it needs to be durable and hold up.”

Technology is another area where manufacturers are listening. In addition to improved cooking technology, recent equipment improvements include cooking presets, diagnostics and food technology.

“Technology can work in several different ways,” Sherlock said. “It can link into a piece of equipment to see from a diagnostic standpoint if it needs service or preventative maintenance before it even needs service call. It can be in programming equipment with different recipes or settings that really take it out of the hands of associates by pre-programming to press one or two buttons.”

That technology allows the corporate office to set and adjust settings, while enabling the store employees to set cooking teams seamlessly.

Sherlock said Wawa tests two different manufacturers’ equipment at the same time to see which one is best.

“There have been times when we’ve done a 20-store test with one piece of equipment and were simultaneously testing with a piece in five stores and quickly learned that that was ultimately the best piece of equipment to roll out,” said Sherlock.

Testing. Relationships. Technology. Quality. They’re all important. But the main thing to keep in mind in expanding your foodservice footprint is to keep at it.

“We’re constantly evolving. Over the past 10 years we’ve put in a specialty baking program, espresso machines, frozen blended beverage smoothies,” Sherlock said. “We continue to evolve the offer almost annually. We are constantly adding new equipment and cycling old equipment out.”