More convenience stores are upping their foodservice game today, but the best program for a c-store chain depends on numerous factors.
First, retailers need to evaluate the offerings already sold in their operating area. Is there a sandwich shop next door or a pizza place across the street? If so, you might want to set your sights on a taco or chicken program instead. But not so fast. Retailers also must consider the local demographic and the types of food that are most popular in their area. Would customers be more apt to buy tacos and burritos or fried chicken and biscuits and gravy? Are you in an urban area where healthy options like salads and rice bowls might trend well, or are your customers looking for comfort food?
After assessing the type of food you plan to offer, consider whether you’re looking to launch a proprietary program or a co-branded option, or simply partner with a quick-service restaurant (QSR) on your property. Each option has its own benefits and drawbacks.
A proprietary program has numerous benefits. It can set your c-store apart as a destination for quality food and allow you additional opportunities to promote your brand. Done well, proprietary programs can be highly profitable, but it can take time to build a proprietary program into a success and see a return on your investment. Those looking for quick results might be disappointed. Proprietary programs are also a big commitment and expense. You’ll be responsible for every aspect from marketing to sourcing ingredients to training. Plus, you’ll need to have buy-in from all aspects of leadership to become a food-focused enterprise.
Co-branded programs can be easier to launch, but you’ll have limited control over the menu, and won’t be marketing your own brand. For some stores, it’s easier and more cost effective to have a co-brand handle the marketing materials, signage and equipment needs for the program. They can even help with best practices in employee training.
Renting space to a QSR and allowing it to operate on your property is another option. A third-party QSR can attract food customers to your property who might also shop at the convenience store. On the plus side, you don’t have to manage anything directly, but receive payment from the rental agreement. The downside is very little control over the QSR’s practices. If the business isn’t managed well or if their employees are unfriendly or poorly trained, it could reflect poorly on your business too. Still, it can be a first step in aligning with a foodservice program.
Once you determine the type of program, there are additional considerations.
In today’s tech-focused world, it’s also important to decide whether you’ll offer delivery or order-ahead/pickup in-store. Today, you’re not only competing with the sandwich shop on the corner, but also any food business nearby customers can access in an app like Grubhub or Uber Eats, especially if you’re located in a more urban area.
If you’re offering a proprietary program, will it be made-to-order and how many offerings will you include on the menu? A simple menu that uses many of the same ingredients across several menu items can help save on costs. Rotating a couple limited-time-only dishes that change seasonally can help add excitement to the menu. Remember that sampling will be key to attract customers to try a new menu.
If running a proprietary program or co-branded program, consider if you’ll have dedicated foodservice employees or have c-store employees cross-over from the store side of the business. Training is a key step in executing a successful food program, especially when it comes to how employees should handle food waste. Food waste is an expense that must be budgeted for in the P&L. Food safety is also an important focus that requires training programs for employees.
No matter which type of food program your chain offers, delivering fresh high-quality food is important for success.