Although breakfast remains the bright spot for c-store foodservice, some c-stores are making impressive inroads at lunch and dinner — and partnering with the PHA to provide healthier food options.
Convenience stores are using both proprietary and co-branded programs to meet a growing customer demand for lunch and dinner foodservice options.
While consumers tend to be creatures of habit when it comes to breakfast, at lunch and dinner they crave variety, according to David Feit, vice president, strategic insights, at The Hartman Group, a Bellevue, Wash.-based market research firm. Millennials particularly are looking for ready-to-serve family meals or components from which they can easily build them.
“To provide variety, retailers should consider featuring different items on certain days, for example, promoting Taco Tuesdays,” Feit suggested. “Or they can plan a weekly menu highlighting a different entrée selection each day, so customers know they can expect to find meatloaf on Mondays, fried chicken on Tuesdays, and so on.”
Leading with LTOs
Thirty of Southwest Georgia Oil Co.’s SunStop convenience stores, SunStop Markets and S&S Food Stores in Georgia, Florida and Alabama that serve hot food feature different limited time offer (LTO) foodservice items every quarter, said Michelle Weckstein, SunStop’s director of foodservice.
This year, quarter one showcases an Italian meatball hoagie and chicken parmesan; quarter two offers Tex Mex specialties, including a signature “Fritaco” taco salad made with Fritos; quarter three introduces gourmet Coney dogs and cheeseburgers; and the fourth quarter presents Asian cuisine, including General Tso’s chicken and teriyaki barbecue.
Weckstein said when the company first started offering LTOs it had a lot to learn about making them successful. Now, prior to the introduction of LTO items in the stores, foodservice managers are brought together and given a detailed roll-out guide. They are then shown how to build the promoted items and make one for themselves to taste. When they go back to their stores, they do the same with their team.
“This builds excitement and helps ensure the team knows how to make the product the right way,” she said.
SunStop’s hot foods program also offers traditional southern comfort dishes such as fried chicken tenders, pork chops, meatloaf, Alabama catfish, fresh vegetables and peach cobbler under the EATS Southern Cookin’ banner. Last year, the stores integrated signature subs, hoagies and salads topped with fried, baked or sautéed chicken.
Everything, Weckstein emphasized, is made from scratch in the stores’ 2,500-square-foot kitchens. Sandwiches are available in the cold case or can be made to order.
For customers looking for more healthful fare, the company searched out meats with low sodium and little-to-no nitrates, and low-fat cheeses. Spinach wraps and wheat berry bread are offered as alternatives to Italian and white breads.
Last year, foodservice sales in the stores grew 8%, an achievement Weckstein attributes to the quality of their offerings. This year, SunStop is putting some marketing muscle behind take-home family meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Another area of opportunity the chain identified is catering for office parties, pharmaceutical representatives, churches, hospitals, schools and other groups.
To reach these groups, Weckstein said the company takes a “boots on the ground” approach, handing out printed menus to customers and surrounding businesses and institutions in addition to in-store and on-pump signage, digital-menu boards and extensive use of social media.
Last summer, the company opened a 7,000-square-foot SunStop Urban Market in Tallahassee, Fla., right off the Florida State University campus, with a primary focus on food, Weckstein said. The hot deli and sandwich areas are the first things customers see as soon as they walk in the front door.
At the College Town store, younger guests requested breakfast foods in the evening and even after midnight. To accommodate these requests, the store transforms its hot food case into a breakfast bar from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Chicken is the bulk of the lunch and dinner foodservice business at Clark’s Pump ‘n Shop stores in West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Florida. Eight of the stores co-brand with Krispy Krunchy Chicken and seven sell proprietary fried chicken as part of its Clark’s Café program. The company has been doing business with Krispy Krunchy for about 10 years, said Brian Unrue, Clark’s director of operations, and is pleased with the training and support the brand provides.
Featuring a spicy Cajun product, Krispy Krunchy fits best in stores where customers like their chicken “with a pop to it,” Unrue said. The cafes serve a milder, more traditional southern-fried chicken.
The cafes also offer homestyle entrees such as meatloaf, lasagna and hamburgers along with biscuits and sides from a hot bar 12-13 feet from the checkout counter. The stores prepare the food from scratch in 150- 200-square-foot open kitchens.
Every month, the stores add to the foodservice menu an LTO Krispy Krunchy, Clark’s Café or grab-and-go item. Successful items are brought back. For example, the stores recently ran a waffle-with-sausage sandwich and a chicken and dumpling entrée, both of which earned a return to the menu. They are currently promoting a special price for an eight-piece chicken dinner.
“We’re using signage, apps and social media, including offering food specials on Facebook,” he said.
Breakfast foods are big sellers all day and evening, accounting for between 35-40% of Clark’s total foodservice business. Customers can get their breakfast sandwiches on house-made biscuits to order or from the hot case.
Committing to Healthy
To give customers seeking healthier food solutions more options, Tri Star Energy’s Twice Daily stores teamed with Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), a national organization founded to prevent obesity in children, three years ago.
“Our partnership with PHA has made us more aware of the items we bring in,” said Lisa Lem, category manager, foodservice and dispensed beverage, for Twice Daily, which has 54 stores, all within 200 miles of Nashville. “We still have doughnuts and cheeseburgers, but we make sure to have healthful items as well.”
For example, the company looks at the salt content of its lunchmeats and uses the database and online calculators on PHA’s website to look for the healthiest options.
Twice Daily’s hot foods menu includes cheeseburgers, pizza and grilled chicken, all of which are made in the stores’ kitchens. The hot foods offering shuts down at 2 p.m., but signage informs customers they can get whatever they want anytime by asking.
The c-stores’ cold cases hold sandwiches, wraps, salads, parfaits and fresh-cut fruit — “one of our biggest sellers in the case” — for grab and go.
Foodservice is promoted on TVs at the pumps, on the drink cooler doors and on the hot foods warmer.
The PHA Summit takes place April 1-2 at Swissôtel in Chicago.
The 2019 summit features breakout sessions focused on topics that include recent advances in food and physical activity designed with disposable income in mind, the opportunity for equitable technologies that improve health, the movement to ensure that those who choose to eat away from home have access to healthy options and creating lasting partnerships that drive better health.