C-store retailers are raking in foodservice profits with chicken programs and finding the versatile protein helps make them a destination for food, while opening the door to easy menu expansion.
Chicken is more than a part of the foodservice offering at Fremont, Ohio-based FriendShip Food Stores; it is the crux of it, according to Kirk Matthews, vice president of foodservice and marketing for FriendShip.
“Fresh, never frozen, FriendShip Famous Chicken is the centerpiece of our program, with tenders, regular and spicy, by far the No. 1 seller for our company,” he explained. “Our tenders are really large, between two-and-a-half to
three ounces each, almost as big as a regular size breast.”
Using fresh chicken is more challenging than using frozen because the shelf life is so much shorter, only 21 to 28 days after processing, he said. Another challenge right now is the havoc that COVID-19 has wreaked on commodity prices.
Matthews pointed out that everything from the oversized tenders themselves to the breading to some of the equipment is proprietary to FriendShip. All the chicken is cooked in the stores in small batches — “make less more often,” he
noted — to ensure freshness, and it is displayed in full-service hot cases.
FriendShip has 29 stores, soon to be 30, in Ohio. Twenty-one of the stores have the FriendShip Kitchen serving hot foods including chicken.
Chicken tenders are the basis for numerous menu items such as the buffalo chicken wrap, chicken parmesan wrap, barbecue chicken pizza, chicken bacon ranch pizza, chef’s salad, Caesar salad and a chicken bowl with mashed potatoes, gravy and corn.
The company just introduced a hot breakfast and lunch chicken burrito, “an on-trend hearty and portable meal,” which has been well-received by customers, Matthews added.
Popcorn chicken is also making its way onto the menu, as is a chicken waffle biscuit. Currently, the company is working to replace the chicken breast sandwich with one made with grilled tenders for a healthier offering.
Bone-in chicken sells extremely well in some of FriendShip’s markets, particularly in the smaller towns. Meanwhile, stores located on highways sell mostly tenders.
In six of its stores that have delis, Kwik Stop Convenience Stores, which has a total of 27 locations in Nebraska and Colorado, chicken sales doubled the delis’ revenue over the past two years. The popular poultry accounted for 45% of the delis’ total sales, said M. David May, director of food services for Kwik Stop.
May reported that customers are coming from other surrounding towns for the chicken, changing the perception of their local Kwik Stop from gas station to foodservice destination. Sales in other product categories have risen, as well, as customers have been adding side dishes and other items from the stores to baskets.
At first, Kwik Stop management expected the chicken to be a primarily summertime draw, anticipating a dip into a downward sales trend during the other seasons. But, according to May, sales have remained steady way past summer.
Kwik Stop offers Krispy Krunchy Chicken, which comes from the supplier soaked in a propriety blend marinade with Cajun seasonings. All breading and frying are done in the stores.
In addition to the hot chicken, the stores chill down any pieces that remain in the case after their hold times (bone-in is four hours, tenders are two) and sell them cold. This, May said, minimizes waste and allows customers to purchase chicken after the delis close for the day at 8 p.m. It also allows those using EBT to buy it, and farm workers in rural communities can find it ready to go anytime between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m.
The chilled chicken is also an ingredient in the jambalaya side dish on the menu.
Taking advantage of chicken’s versatility, May added to the menu tacos and burritos made with cut-up tenders and served with mayonnaise, ranch dressing or barbecue sauce. For breakfast, there are chicken tender biscuits and chicken-and-cheese tortilla crispitos.
Tenders fly out the door all day. “As soon as we put them in the hot box, they sell,” he said.