The pandemic has impacted each daypart differently, and while c-stores remained open, visits dipped as consumers stayed home. As the country reopens, visits are up, but further recovery will depend on consumers returning to workplaces and schools this fall.
“Guest behavior’s really hard to isolate right now because there are so many moving variables,” said Brian Scantland, vice president, fresh food operations and business planning & analysis for Thorntons. “Even by city, or even part of a city, we’re seeing sporadic normalization.”
The Louisville, Ky.-based chain, which owns and operates 208 locations across six states, added 60 kitchens to stores mid-pandemic.
The morning daypart in particular, Scantland noted, is recovering differently at almost every site.
At Pittsburgh-based GetGo Café+Market, “breakfast has slowly started to come back,” said GetGo Vice President & Chief Merchant Jon Cox, “and we are hopeful that in September, when kids go back to school, we will start to get some of the commuter business back.”
For now, lunch continues to be the busiest daypart, he said, and the evening daypart holds the most growth potential.
“We have seen business shift more to the afternoon and early evening,” Cox said, “and with consumers wanting to make fewer trips, we believe there is potential to grow that daypart through offering larger sizes for dinner, meal deals and combos, ready-to-heat meals and different items for customers to either eat in-store or take home and heat.”
In the c-store space, GetGo was an early adopter of third-party delivery through its partnership with DoorDash, which helps contribute to dinner daypart sales.
“We usually see larger basket sizes through customers that order on the app, and most of it is later in the day when we may traditionally be slower in-store,” Cox said. “Most major restaurant chains use at least one delivery app, and I believe that this business will continue to grow as customers are looking for new ways to save time.”
Down south, Lafayette, La.-based Complete Stop 12, which operates about 40 stores in Louisiana, offers a range of foodservice options, including Cajun Chicken Express and Zeus, a Greek and Lebanese program, as well as Hunt Brothers, a pizza brand celebrating its 30th year in business this month.
Hunt Brothers’ limited-time offers (LTOs) are super successful at Complete Stop 12 stores — both slices and whole pies — said Complete Stop 12 Owner Ramsey Ali. But it also depends on where the stores are located.
“The slices will do good in a city area, and in a rural area, we do get a lot of whole pizza orders,” Ali said. “With the stores that (sell more) slices, lunch is busier, but in rural areas, where (we sell a lot of) whole pizzas, evening and dinnertime gets busy.”
Complete Stop 12’s partnership with Hunt Brothers is a “win-win,” said Ali. It complements the chain’s other foodservice offers but also acts as a great standalone program because of the minimal amount of labor needed.
This is proving more important now than ever, as the economy opening back up has led to staffing and supply challenges for retailers nationwide.
“The spring and summer season has been challenging for developing new foodservice offerings,” said GetGo’s Cox. “Supplier issues as well as staffing have presented us with a challenge of just running our base business effectively.”
For now, GetGo’s focusing on being creative with new sauces and seasonings to add excitement to the existing menu. And it’s promoting its “Summer of BBQ” offers, which includes pulled pork, chicken and brisket. Come fall, GetGo’s focus will shift to LTO subs — some new and some repeats based on past successes.
“In grab and go,” Cox said, “we are working on our expanded market concept that we will begin to pilot in the fall with enhanced grab-and-go items, including ready-to-eat meals, snacks and cooked proteins.”
Thorntons, too, is focused on tightening its product offering so it’s simple on operations and guests can depend on it, Scantland said.
Following the success of its BurgerRito LTO last year, Thorntons launched a new breakfast item at the start of the summer season — the Sunrise Sampler — a breakfast sandwich on a french toast carrier with egg, sausage, ham, four slices of bacon and cheese.
Within two days, Scantland said, it was the No. 1 performing item out of the kitchen.
“It was expected to be an LTO. But we will serve it until the guests tell us not to,” he said, “With the momentum and the uniqueness of that item to our lineup, it has a very good chance of becoming a permanent item.”
Ultimately, though, it’s difficult to predict the future, Scantland said. After all, we’re in uncharted territory.
“We’re going to control what we can control,” he said, “and that’s our ability to serve great-tasting food and to make it easy on our operators and our supply partners.”