WINNER: FriendShip Stores for FriendShip Famous Chicken, part of its FriendShip Kitchen brand and foodservice program
CStore Decisions is recognizing FriendShip Stores for a “Best Foodservice Launch” designation for its FriendShip Famous Chicken, a rapidly growing part of its new FriendShip Kitchen brand and foodservice program.
Fremont, Ohio-based FriendShip debuted its new FriendShip Kitchen store and foodservice program in April 2018, and it has been busy expanding the concept ever since. At press time, FriendShip, which operates 26 stores, had converted three existing locations to the FriendShip Kitchen brand and debuted three new-to-market FriendShip Kitchen stores. All six locations include full-service kitchens and FriendShip-branded proprietary products from the foodservice counter to the FriendShip-branded fuel in the forecourt. They also offer the chain’s signature food item, “FriendShip Famous Chicken.”
An additional 11 FriendShip locations are now offering FriendShip Famous Chicken, but have yet to be remodeled to the FriendShip Kitchen signage and interior design.
“When we do a full remodel of a store, it becomes a FriendShip Kitchen,” explained Ed Burcher, vice president of foodservice for FriendShip.
Back in 2017…
Three years ago, FriendShip committed to revamping its food program.
“We had been operating foodservice programs through various supplier-branded programs for years,” explained Brian Beck, co-owner of Beck Suppliers, the parent company of FriendShip Stores. “We decided that we needed to take these years of learning and transition to 100% proprietary foodservice offering branded with the FriendShip Kitchen name.”
Step one was converting its breakfast program to a FriendShip-branded proprietary offering. Today, in addition to traditional breakfast sandwiches on English muffins and freshly made biscuits, it features breakfast pizza and burritos. And, keeping with the theme of ‘famous for chicken,’ there is a Chicken Tender Biscuit and Chicken & Waffle sandwich.
With breakfast in place, FriendShip turned its attention to launching its star program: FriendShip Famous Chicken.
In June 2018, with the opening of its first new-to-market FriendShip Kitchen location, FriendShip rolled out its proprietary hand-breaded chicken brand. The chicken is “fresh, never frozen,” and cooked in small batches.
“We double-hand-bread our chicken, which makes it very crispy,” Burcher said.
FriendShip partnered with a supplier to develop, test and select a unique spice blend that would best appeal to its customers. After success with its original chicken tenders, FriendShip debuted spicy chicken tenders in December 2018. “Those have become a significant portion of sales,” he said.
Chicken sales were up double-digits year-over-year for 2019, Burcher noted.
Today, the offering includes tenders, wings, by-the-piece chicken, large boxes of chicken and family meal deals. Rolling out to stores now is a FriendShip Chicken Sandwich and Spicy Chicken Sandwich, both made using the same seasoning blends as all FriendShip Famous Chicken.
The chicken is prepared on-site. “We get fresh chicken in several times a week,” Burcher said. “We cook it throughout the day. There are fryers in every single store and display cases. We’re preparing the chicken fresh in our kitchens, so we can actually say we’re a kitchen versus others who have commissaries that bring in product.”
Some 19 locations are currently offering pizza, and half have converted to FriendShip’s proprietary pizza program, which also rolled out in mid-2018. The plan is to complete the conversion of all stores to the FriendShip pizza program by mid-2020. The pizza is made in-store and is baked fresh. Slices and whole pies appeal to lunch guests, or those seeking a meal for dinner or an event.
“Because we’re famous for chicken, our lead pizza products are our FriendShip chicken pizzas, including Buffalo Chicken Pizza and Chicken Bacon Ranch Pizza,” Burcher said.
FriendShip recently upgraded its mobile app and loyalty program, partnering with Paytronix. On the docket for 2020, the chain is eyeing mobile order-ahead solutions.
“We spent the last 18 months gaining consistency in foodservice product, process, offer and equipment with just a little more to complete,” Burcher said. “In 2020, we’re going to be concentrating on those areas as well as using social media to further build our brand.”
Placing the c-store brand right on the food it serves makes a difference, Burcher said.
“The only place you can get FriendShip Famous Chicken is at FriendShip, and that is a big win, and our people know that, so they take pride in what they sell and what they prepare,” he said. “Our FriendShip hosts are truly the stars of our offer, and they are the key to our success. Our chicken is made with care and attention and served with care and attention by our hosts because it’s ours, and it’s got our name on it.”
From a brand standpoint, Burcher pointed out that FriendShip is at the beginning of its proprietary foodservice journey compared to some c-store chains that have been at it for 20- to 30-plus years. “It is exciting for us, and our customers and communities are excited about it, too.”
WINNER: Parker’s for its Parker’s Kitchen Program
Savannah, Ga.-based Parker’s introduced its Parker’s Kitchen concept to the Charleston, S.C., region with the opening of its Moncks Corner, S.C., store in June 2019. Over the past seven months, the company has aggressively expanded and refined the Parker’s Kitchen program, as it added a fleet of new stores that incorporate the food-centric concept.
Today, Parker’s operates 64 total locations in Georgia and South Carolina, including 41 Parker’s Kitchen stores. The chain plans to open 12 more Parker’s Kitchen stores in 2020.
CStore Decisions is recognizing Parker’s with a “Best Foodservice Launch” designation for its Parker’s Kitchen concept.
Parker’s Kitchen stores are committed to serving Southern-style comfort food, made from scratch daily in small batches using fresh ingredients. The offering includes a selection of breakfast, lunch and dinner items that look to take convenience store food to a new level.
“All of our new stores are branded as Parker’s Kitchen and include our award-winning menu of Southern-inspired favorites as well as freshly brewed sweet tea, lemonade, fountain drinks with Chewy ice, bean-to-cup gourmet coffee and much more,” said Greg Parker, founder and CEO of Parker’s and Parker’s Kitchen. “As we continue to focus on foodservice, we will strategically rebrand select existing Parker’s locations into the Parker’s Kitchen concept where the store’s square footage allows.”
Parker’s also stands out by using data to drive decision-making for the Parker’s Kitchen concept.
“We’re using machine learning and innovative algorithms that incorporate a wide range of data to give us predictive analytics that help us make chicken tenders before the customer orders them to ensure that everything is as fresh as possible,” Parker said. “Our goal is for every chicken tender we sell to be cooked within 15 minutes of being delivered to the customer.”
Quality & Fresh
Parker credits the chain’s emphasis on fresh food for Parker’s Kitchen’s success. “Our food program resonates with customers because we have an uncompromising commitment to quality and incredible attention to detail. Our customers know that when they stop by Parker’s Kitchen, they’ll enjoy exceptional customer service and fresh, delicious food. Every moment of every day, we’re focused on making sure that Parker’s Kitchen foodservice meets our high standards.”
The chicken tenders, for example, are antibiotic-free, double-breaded by hand and cooked “to perfection” every time. “They have the perfect crunch on the outside and hot, moist, juicy chicken on the inside. We care about quality — and it shows in everything we do,” Parker said.
The menu also offers family-sized meals for less than $20, which include Southern-style chicken tenders or bone-in chicken, homestyle sides, yeast rolls and freshly brewed iced tea.
“Our Family Meals are incredibly popular, particularly for busy parents who want to pick up a delicious, satisfying, affordable meal that will appeal to kids of all ages,” Parker said.
Parker’s Kitchen also features a complete breakfast offering including egg casserole and sausage-egg-and-cheese biscuits.
As part of the Parker’s Kitchen expansion, Parker’s extended its foodservice hours and added indoor dining sections and outdoor dining areas where space allowed. For guests who’d rather eat at home, Parker’s is incorporating technology to make foodservice more convenient. The chain has partnered with UberEats, DoorDash, Waitr and Grubhub to offer food delivery.
“Our goal is to offer the fastest, most frictionless experience and the highest quality food, allowing our customers to fuel their cars as well as their appetites. We believe technology plays a key role in making foodservice more convenient than ever for our customers,” Parker said.
Parker’s has also added food kiosks to expedite the ordering process. In 2020, Parker’s plans to add the order-ahead function to its mobile app, allowing Parker’s Kitchen customers to access the menu and place an order for pick-up right from their phone.
“Today’s convenience store customers are more discriminating than ever,” Parker said. “They want fresh, fast, reasonably priced food that’s higher quality than what they might find at a quick-service restaurant. We’re focused on meeting the changing needs of today’s convenience store customers and on exceeding customer expectations, each and every day.”