Fresh hot dog and corn dog servings ordered at convenience stores were up 7% in the year ending November 2018 over the prior year, reported NPD Group research firm recently.
According to consultant and veteran convenience store expert Jerry Weiner, roller grill will continue to be an integral part of c-store foodservice programs because “it is the easiest fresh hot food available and a program that they can execute well in just about every configuration.”
The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC) reported that for the year 2018, nearly 900 million pounds of hot dogs were sold at retail stores, representing more than $3 billion in retail sales. New products in flavors such as honey and brown sugar, barbeque, Cajun, spicy and teriyaki have helped to drive those sales.
Dinner sausage sales last year were nearly 1.1 billion pounds, a 1.4% increase over 2017 with dollars spent exceeding $3.72 billion, NHDSC reported.
While the “variety” of products and flavor profiles back in the 1980s was limited to two items — hot dogs and Polish sausage — consumers today expect to find many more options, Weiner said.
“I’ve seen products in the very, very early stages of research and development that make me sure that the offering is going to change dramatically to fit new flavor profiles,” Weiner said. “That’s where we’re headed.”
Weiner pointed out that as far as toppings, the traditional condiment packets of mustard, ketchup and relish are no longer sufficient. He advises retailers to look at adding refrigerated self-serve wells or pumps of a variety of toppings to match the quality of the items on the grill.
When it comes to promotions, “a two-fer is the best tool to create trial,” Weiner said.
Greg Brown, food and beverage manager at the Fastbreak convenience chain, which includes 29 stores in Oregon and Northern California, agreed. The offer of two hot dogs or Tornados for $3 makes his roller grills a regular stop for customers.
So do the limited-time-offer (LTO) hot dog varieties, such as a four-cheese version, that allow the stores to “mix it up a bit without waste issues and problems for the managers,” Brown said. The LTOs change every two months and are called out on the grill with roller thimble signage.
Fastbreak stores also feature breakfast sausages on their grills throughout the day and merchandise their egg rolls at grillling sites.
Over the past year Brown has pared down the selection of roller grill items to better manage waste, but is considering adding back some roller bites that are popular.
Brown is also looking for the best space to fit a six-unit condiment bar where the stores could offer fresh toppings such as jalapeños and sauerkraut. For the past year and a half, they have been using squeeze bottles in addition to offering the traditional packets.
“We’re planning to do more training of everyone from our regional and area manager to the individual store employees, so they’ll know what items to put on at various times throughout the day and how much waste is acceptable,” Brown said.