Retailers find that supple chicken and roller grill programs can beef up foodservice offerings.
Americans’ love affair with chicken shows no signs of slowing down. Always a versatile ingredient, it appeals to a wide range of customers and is perceived as healthier than other proteins.
Throw in the fact that roller grill offerings have become more diverse, and the canvas for convenience retailers to stretch their foodservice programs is wide indeed.
Chicken is a flexible protein, and is finding its way into almost every aspect of foodservice. In addition to the traditional chicken sandwich lunch and dinner entrees and roller grill finger foods, or appetizers like chicken tenders and nuggets, c-stores are adding chicken to their breakfast menus as a biscuit sandwich protein.
Retailers are also using chicken as a pizza topping, expanding their varieties of chicken-based wraps, putting it salads, and placing chicken-based sausages on the roller grill. The use of chicken breast in breakfast sandwiches has risen considerably, driven largely by younger consumers. It has a prominent place in a wide variety of food, including pizza, Mexican, Asian and Korean dishes.
Chicken is also a good way to provide menu items that have a better-for-you image without sacrificing flavor and satisfaction.
There is also more chicken around today. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. beef production has held steady since 1970, while chicken production has increased by five times. Those increases and improvements in production efficiency have placed more chicken on the market, with a lower retail price than beef.
Not only is chicken a healthier protein option, but can be used in variety of offerings, cutting foodservice costs substantially. It’s little wonder, then, that across the c-store channel, chicken is flying out the door of retailers big and small, including:
- 7-Eleven for instance, is currently offering eight bone-in wings for just $5. Other chicken menu items include Grilled and Classic Chicken Sandwiches; Chicken Tenders; Spicy Chicken Sandwiches and Biscuits; and Monterey Jack and Buffalo Chicken Taquitos.
- Wawa is serving a Roasted Chicken Sandwich with melted provolone, and fresh veggies; Quesadillas and burritos available with chicken or beef; Chicken Caesar salads; and Chicken Noodle Soup.
- Sheetz also uses chicken in a variety of ways, including Made to order Mac N Cheese with Chicken Tenders; Grilled, Popcorn and Spicy Chicken; a Boom Boom Chicken Po’ Boy; Grilled Chicken Sub; Chicken Sala; and Chicken Shnack Wraps, Stripz and Sliderz.
INTEGRATING ROLLER GRILL
A great mix: “Chicken is a very popular choice for QMart,” said Mary Sonatore, retail buyer and merchandiser for Northwest Petroleum LP’s QMart, a Houston-based chain of 26 convenience stores across Houston and Austin, Tex. “For c-stores overall, we’ve seen a great mix that’s included in items such as bowls, wraps and sandwiches, and tornados and egg rolls on the roller grill.”
Sonatore said the c-store chain is extending its menu profile to accommodate chicken’s popularity.
“Chicken has great options for stores to diversify their menus, and we’ve certainly taken advantage of that. For example, at Q-Mart we have several items containing chicken in choices such as plates, fajitas, salads and tacos. Since we are based in the Southwest, we include chicken in items that consumers from our region are attracted to.”
To augment her menu even more, Sonatore is offering roller grill items, including a robust hot dog program.
New Orleans, La.-based Brother’s Food Mart, which operates 40 c-store locations, is enjoying great success with is fried chicken program, said CEO and owner Eddie Hamdan. “This is New Orleans. We are known for it. We all love it in New Orleans, Metairie, Baton Rouge—everywhere.”
Brother’s general manager Lisa Washington pointed out that her company’s fried chicken program also helps establish its brand, since it uses well-known proprietary breading and marinade. “We want to be distinct.” Brother’s menu also includes Po Boy sandwiches, meat pies and Jambalaya rice. The combination works: foodservice accounts for 35% of store sales, Washington said.
Brother’s fried chicken program includes sizes ranging from two to 25 pieces. The top size is priced at $14.99 for dark meat, 16.99 for white and $19.99 for a mixed box. The entrée comes with French fries and a roll. Occasional promotions with either Coke or Pepsi offer discounts on two-liter bottles with the purchase of a 25-piece meal. Tenders come in six- and nine-piece sizes.
Meat pies are priced at $2.29, and the Jambalaya rice side dish at $1.59. The stores’ deli areas are manned around the clock by a team of two or three employees.
Washington said Brother’s management team currently has no desire to expand its chicken offerings. “We just plan to keep everything the same.” Nor do they feel that advertising their largely chicken-based foodservice program is necessary, preferring to rely on word of mouth.
“We have a lot of locations,” Washington said. “They are clean and located close together. A lot of people pass by and recognize us. We sell fuel also, so it’s a one-stop shop for customers.”
That word of mouth recently extended to comedian and actor Kevin Hart, who had good things to say about Brother’s fried chicken on Twitter.
Tariq Khan, the president Sentar Fuel Co. in West Hempstead, N.Y., which operates a trio of BP Express convenience stores, said he does well with sales of chicken items and grilled items through a franchised Nathan’s Famous outlet in one of his locations. “We have an oven that we use to prepare chicken nuggets, as well as a deep fryer that we use for both chicken and French fries.”
Do c-stores benefit from chicken’s healthy perception? “Yes and no,” said Khan. “The people who come into a convenience store are not looking for healthy food. But they know they are in a convenience store and they want to eat something, and they’d rather have chicken than anything else.”
Sentar runs no promotions on its chicken dishes, Khan noted. “We just put out our signage.”
The program has been successful in bringing in local workers at lunch time. “We do pretty well with a lot of guys who have a landscaping business,” said Khan. “We also service a lot of guys who are contractors, and a bunch of folks who are going from one destination to another. They’re hungry, they come down to get some gas and we give them something to eat.”
The company also serves chicken Panettas, priced at 99 cents each.
Khan said he believes convenience stores should place more chicken items on their menus. “Americans are eating more chicken without a doubt, because people today are very health conscious. They also feel that chicken is something that is not like fish, and they don’t like French fries that much. The guys, who are watching their diets, they will go with chicken.”