C-stores are looking to make foodservice packaging more sustainable, yet still affordable, functional and safe, as customers opt for curbside pickup and delivery during the coronavirus pandemic.
While many things have taken a backseat to the current pandemic, environmental sustainability is important to young consumers. And 44% of U.S. millennials say one of the best ways for a brand or company to show that it represents their personal values is by following environmentally friendly practices, according to market intelligence agency Mintel’s “2020 Global Packaging Trends” report.
Although Spicewood, Texas-based Kwik Chek’s customers have not been especially vocal about sustainable packaging, CEO Kevin Smartt said it’s a priority for the company, and it’s only a matter of time before it’s the norm.
“I think it’s coming,” he said, “so we’re trying to stay a little bit ahead of the curve on that if we can.”
He said Kwik Chek has been researching environmentally friendly packaging, experimenting with different products to find the best option for both the business and its customers.
“We’re trying to figure out what items in our packaging we can convert, what makes sense economically to us and what means the most to the consumer,” said Smartt. “I think it’s a frustrating consumer experience if you get something that is sustainable, but it’s not a good package or a good product. That has been our challenge — a quality product that’s economical and that we can afford to implement into the system.”
Des Moines, Iowa-based Kum & Go recently introduced environmentally friendly and compostable packaging, including salad bowls, lids and cutlery made with renewable resources, as well as Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) certified straws and birch wood stir sticks.
The move stems from the chain’s “Four Pillars of Social Responsibility,” outlined in its “Corporate Social Responsibility” report, which includes implementing sustainable practices to reduce the company’s impact on the environment.
“Kum & Go has a history of committing to improving the communities we serve,” said Kum & Go Director of Communications Ariel Rubin. “Our leadership and food teams pushed for this change to continue that mission.”
Overall, Kum & Go’s priority when sourcing this new packaging was improving the customer experience — including appearance, performance and function on the go, the latter of which is especially important amid COVID-19.
Adapting To A New Normal
As part of a broader effort to give customers more options during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kum & Go introduced curbside pickup in the greater Des Moines area, which will eventually roll out to all of its 400 stores across 11 states.
Kwik Chek also offers curbside pickup and, for the past year, delivery through DoorDash and other regional services. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the company added delivery service to additional areas, which Smartt said has helped increase food sales as fuel demand and overall inside sales slow.
While he recognizes the cost barrier for retailers, Smartt believes it will prove necessary for c-stores to compete with quick-service restaurants (QSRs), especially in the evening daypart.
“I think you’re going to have to find a way to offer that service,” he said. “Historically, convenience stores have not done as well in the evening daypart as our competitors in the QSR world. So we’re going to have to find a way to do that and to negotiate as favorable of terms as possible.”
Kwik Chek has also seen an increase in family-style takeout orders since the pandemic began and recently debuted Family Kwik Packs, available in the cold grab-and-go section, and Family Meal Deals — all under $20 for a family of four.
Among the offers are a Pizza Meal Deal, which is $19.99 for two 14-inch two-topping pizzas and a large salad, and a Taco Family Deal for breakfast, which includes six original tacos for $8.99 or 12 for $13.99, or for lunch — six original tacos and two 16-ounce sides for $13.99 or 12 original tacos for $19.99.
From pizza to chicken to tacos and more, during COVID-19, Kwik Chek’s biggest considerations with packaging are functionality and safety, said Smartt.
While there is “no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), secure packaging is one way to communicate safety to wary customers.
“Whatever we’re offering to our customers, the product is completely wrapped or sealed,” said Smartt. “We are trying to keep health and safety at the front of our minds to make sure we’re offering products in packages that we feel keeps the food clean and safe.”