Chicken has become a popular item in convenience stores – but is it right for your convenience store?
It can be if, first and foremost, the operator accepts that he is embracing a significantly different business model.
“Any c-store considering a chicken or other foodservice program must understand they are not just adding a new category,” said Steven Montgomery, president of b2b Solutions LLC in Lake Forest, Ill. “In essence, (they are) creating a restaurant inside their store. This changes the customer expectations for the entire store, not just the space devoted to the foodservice program.”
These changes involve virtually everything in the store, but a key facet is cleanliness. “While cleanliness is always important we tell our clients that c-store clean is not equal to restaurant clean,” Montgomery said.
Part of the difference in business models involves cultural changes. C-stores have been built on the concept of self-serve from the forecourt to cooler, Montgomery explained. Fresh food programs generally involve waiting on customers rather than waiting for them to come to the checkout.
This requires the team members to internalize that they no longer have customers — they have guests — and that can be a hard cultural transition, he noted.
Blurring of Channels
Chicken offers versatility as it can be delivered in a variety of forms from tenders to wings to chicken sandwiches, from baked to fried, and it often appeals to health-conscious customers.
Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) program specialist Steven Ryle noted that chicken appeals to all demographic segments within his stores’ customer base.
A strong chicken offering can not only bring customers and increase sales, but it can also prove worthy of a store redesign to accommodate the program. One recently added supplier in particular has proven to be an excellent addition to the AAFES’ convenience channel and drives traffic from the pump to the Express stores.
The company offers chicken sandwiches and tenders, as well as breakfast biscuit sandwiches. In fact, there are currently 16 Express locations worldwide that now include a quick-serve restaurant featuring this supplier’s chicken product.
The Express stores’ chicken programs are advertised via social media and in-store radio channels. To highlight the convenience channel’s chicken program, Express stores emphasize the grab-and-go aspect. AAFES stores’ equipment package allows for a low investment and quick set up, along with minimal space requirements.
Fluctuations in the economy naturally affect shoppers’ discretionary spending. AAFES’ chicken program communicates value, which resonates with shoppers, Ryle said. “This includes highlighting the speed and convenience of offerings.