When it comes to foodservice, no matter the offer, whether proprietary or branded, today’s consumers expect quality as much as convenience.
New trends emerge, but classics like pizza and chicken will always have a place in consumers’ hearts (and stomachs).
Profiting With Pizza
Greeneville, Tenn.-based Greeneville Oil, which operates 33 Quick Stop Markets in Tennessee and Virginia, has seen firsthand how a quality pizza program can grow its business. The chain offers a Hunt Brothers Pizza program at seven of its locations.
Greeneville Oil Foodservice Director Gregg Curtis found that the partnership made his job of implementing a pizza program much easier.
“My homework was done,” said Curtis. “I didn’t have to find a pizza crust. I didn’t have to find a pizza sauce and all the components that go with it. I didn’t have to create any marketing programs or any signage. And, with this company, in my position, that was invaluable because I’m a department of one.”
To showcase its quality and drive sales, Curtis said he gives out samples when he adds the program to a store. “Sampling, I found — not just with pizza, with anything — it helps,” he said. “If you just give people a taste of something, just enough to make them want it, then you’ve created a sale.”
Pepperoni is the top seller in his stores, but Curtis said he’s especially excited about the breakfast pizza.
“Breakfast (pizza) has been a big deal to us because it’s something that we didn’t offer before,” he said. “Who doesn’t like pizza? So why not have it for breakfast?”
You can hardly mention breakfast pizza without talking about Casey’s General Stores, which has offered it for nearly 20 years.
“Our Breakfast Pizza is one reason we’re famous, and you can get it with veggies, sausage or bacon,” said Casey’s Chief Merchandising Officer Tom Brennan. “We introduced Breakfast Pizza in 2001, and it remains a favorite.”
Casey’s is the fifth-largest pizza chain in the U.S. by kitchen count, and it’s in the top 10 when it comes to sales.
Casey’s pizzas are handmade in-store, every day, using fresh dough, high-quality sauce, toppings and whole milk mozzarella cheese.
Casey’s also features limited-time offers and innovative styles, such as Mac & Cheese Pizza and Chicken Alfredo Pizza. Taco Pizza, a top specialty pizza for the brand, features refried beans, salsa, beef or chicken and mozzarella cheese, topped with lettuce, tomatoes, taco chips and cheddar cheese.
“In addition to following trends, we get feedback from our guests through social media and our guest relations team on a daily basis in order to ensure we understand and are responding to what our guests want,” said Brennan.
Even so, many customers gravitate toward tried-and-true favorites.
“Pepperoni (pizza) is the winner when it comes to sales with over five million sold each year,” he said.
While Casey’s is undoubtedly known for its pizza, Brennan said chicken plays an important role in its foodservice offering.
“We have seen positive growth in our lunch daypart due to our new crispy chicken and grilled chicken sandwiches, chicken tenders and popcorn chicken,” he said.
Meanwhile, at Station Management Consultants’ Sunoco-branded Food Marts in Philadelphia, tenders remain the most popular chicken style, said Chris Moynihan, director of foodservice. The 14-store chain offers chicken at two stores through a partnership with Krispy Krunchy Chicken. “It’s been great,” he said of the program. “It brings a lot of traffic to the neighborhood.”
Moynihan saw the program’s fresh chicken as a key differentiator. “We didn’t want to use frozen products, and all its products are fresh,” he said.
Moynihan also saw positive effects on chicken sales after quick-service restaurant Popeyes introduced a chicken sandwich in August that became a viral sensation. As a result, Moynihan saw increased requests for chicken sandwiches at his c-stores.
Next to freshness and quality, Moynihan cited transparency as key to a successful chicken program.
“Everybody likes the open kitchen now,” he said. “I think people want to see some theater, to see you cooking right there.”
Young consumers especially are looking for transparency from brands, said Julie Heseman, principal of Foodservice IP, a research-based management consulting firm that specializes in foodservice. They’re also more conscious of their food choices overall and are the primary drivers of new trends. But even as consumers look toward new trends, chicken remains a favorite.
“Everyone is looking at plant-based, but if you’re wanting that traditional comfort food, fried chicken is still the go-to,” she said.
That said, Moynihan recognizes that competition is stiff. What worked for yesterday’s customers might not work for tomorrow’s.
“If you want to stay in business, if you want to have a loyal clientele, you’ve got to give them what they’re looking for,” he said. “It’s not just about price anymore; it’s about quality and being innovative.”