Space limitations have long plagued c-stores who desire professional foodservice programs.
On the Tuesday afternoon of the National Advisory Group (NAG) Conference, held Sept. 8-11 in Minneapolis, c-store retailers gathered to learn about how to better execute a foodservice strategy in a small footprint.
Moderator David Caruso, director, Stewart’s Shops, moderated “Burning Issue No. 5: Equipped for foodservice success,” with speakers Joy Almekies, director of food services, Global Partners; Jon Cox, senior chief merchant, GetGo; and Ted Roccagli, director of partnerships and preferred vendor programs, Empire Petroleum.
Joy Almekies, director of food services, Global Partners; introduced the company’s new concept — Alltown Fresh — and it’s organic, locally-sourced offering that includes vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free foods. The concept’s goal is to provide a market and fresh food alternative that also has fuel or “Whole Foods meets convenience.”
“Millennials and Gen Z are the ones driving this,” she said. There is a growing demand among this demographic for products with attributes like fresh and organic, sustainable, plant-based and clean. Authenticity and transparency are key to this demographic. Alltown Fresh is targeting health conscious, tech-savvy millennials and health-conscious moms.
Out of 302 company-operated locations, two locations are Alltown Fresh sites, and the company has plans to have a total of five Alltown Fresh locations open by the end of the year.
Almekies outlined the chain’s food and beverage program, fountain equipment, and its commitment to the customers it serves. For example, it creates food 65 items in-house in a 150-square-foot kitchen. As far as equipment, the chain relies on combi ovens, as well as induction burners — on which it cooks fresh cracked eggs — and kiosk ordering systems. All of this helps it deliver on the quality the chain promises the customers it serves.
Staying true to your values and brand attributes helps grow customer trust. “As soon as you deviate from the brand, people stop trusting you,” she warned.
The Path Toward Foodservice
Jon Cox, senior chief merchant, Get-Go, noted the chain, which is part of Giant Eagle, is bridging the traditional convenience store with tomorrow’s café market.
Cox outlined Get-Go’s foodservice offering and the equipment in its kitchens that allows it to best serve customers. The chain is adding its Café+Market program to existing legacy stores.
Building a quality food program takes time and space.
“How do you make space? We utilize every corner, every wall, under check stands. A year and a half ago we extended the gondola heights to consolidate planograms in order to add additional coolers on the floor…” Cox said. Roller grills were among items removed to make space to add kitchens and an expanded food program.
The move allows Get-Go to reach the upcoming core shopper.
Cox noted yesterday’s Bubba has given away to a new customer, “Taylor.” Taylor is multi-cultural, millennial and Gen Z, male and females craving fresh food and beverages in-between gas fill-ups.
Cox added insights on bridging the gap between Bubba and Taylor and maximizing space for the type of offering Taylor is seeking.
When embarking on foodservice, “You will lose before you win. Don’t sacrifice your brand to save a couple pennies. Understand it’s an investment for the long haul,” he said.
Fast Food Programs
Ted Roccagli, director of partnerships and preferred vendor programs, Empire Petroleum, spoke on leveraging deals with the vendor community for store owners using Empire’s fuel program, as well as for Fastmarket corporate stores.
Roccagli noted the path to fast food success is to seek out turn-key branded programs with no franchise fees or royalties and that offer full support or training. The concept should fit the demographics of the store’s market. Preparing the food should be simple and the daypart menu must be selected carefully, he advised. Last but not least, retailers must constantly work to improve their spoilage and waste.
“Breakfast is vital,” he said. “If you’re not doing breakfast you have to start doing breakfast pretty quick. You don’t want to miss out on that opportunity.”
YEO Breakout Session
In a special breakout session for young executives, “How Millennial Insights Can Connect Your Brand with Customers,” Linda McKenna, managing partner, EPS Inc., showed how convenience store retailers can better market to millennials — those born between 1980 and 2000, and the generation that currently holds the most purchasing power.
It doesn’t always work if young executives just look at their own attitudes. “Millennials in the business tend to act more like baby boomers. They don’t always fit the stereotypes,” McKenna said.
McKenna outlined what factors have influenced generational values from baby boomers to millennials, and how to use that information in marketing to customers.
For example, “affiliation with a cause is more important to the millennial generation than to any previous generation.” And it’s even more important to Gen Z. Getting the message out on how c-stores are giving back to the community is key.
One of the most important things to remember about the younger generation, “millennials aren’t passive recipients they’re active participants.”