In the midst of the pandemic, some retailers paused roller grill sales, while others brought the segment behind the counter to meet COVID-19 safety requirements, while continuing to serve guests.
Roller grill remains an integral and consistent part of the expansive foodservice segment at Rutter’s convenience stores, which has 78 locations in Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia, said Chad White, the chain’s food service category manager. In part because the grills are kept behind the counter and the customers do not have contact with the food, this segment was less affected than others by COVID restrictions and guest hesitation to purchase.
In most locations, Rutter’s features five or six items on its grills to suit the varied palates of customers. Featured are meat items such as regular hot dogs (the No. 1 best seller) and jumbo beef dogs; fresh, “Ragin Cajun” hot smoked and regular smoked sausages; and roller grill cheeseburgers. Additional items such as egg rolls and tornados are added in stores that do not have ovens to prepare made-to-order selections.
Adding fuel to the sales momentum are special roller grill centered promotions, one of the strongest being two-for deals, White said. He also pointed out that shaking up the category with unique new items, a recent one being chicken andouille sausage, also gets customer attention, though they often try them and revert to old favorites.
New for 2021
For 2021, White plans to explore some new plant- and chicken-based items.
“These will definitely be geared toward grabbing new customers who haven’t previously viewed roller grill as an option,” he said.
Overall, sales of hot dogs in 2020 rose about 20% and total pounds 7% over 2019, noted Eric Mittenthal, president of the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council. In March, early in the pandemic, sales soared 127% in grocery stores before they evened out.
Dinner sausage sales experienced a similar surge. Since then, they evened out up 24% in sales and 15% in total pounds in 2020.
While regular tried-and-true hot dogs are among America’s favorites, consumers are interested in trying new ingredients and flavor profiles, Mittenthal said.
The same is true for sausages. Retailers have a wide variety of items from which to choose as the selections continue to expand.
Mittenthal predicted that the category will continue to grow, even as life goes back to some semblance of normal.
“People will always be looking for convenient and delicious solutions,” he said.
Clever promotions can also highlight roller grill items. Last year, the council launched “Weiner Wednesday” and “Weiner Weekend” promotions, for which retailers can request a logo and other creative materials.