C-store chains are doubling down on their lunch offerings as customer demand for foodservice options grows. Tried-and-true c-store fare like chicken, pizza and roller grill remain customer favorites, while limited-time offers (LTOs) keep the menu fresh.
Lunch sales are strong and continuing to steadily grow at Beck Suppliers Inc.’s FriendShip Food Stores, which operates 29 locations in Ohio. The company’s “famous” chicken accounts for well over half of the midday foodservice business with pizza following close behind, reported Kirk Matthews, the chain’s vice president of foodservice and marketing.
Both core items are proprietary and made fresh in the stores, giving FriendShip an edge over many of the competitors in its market areas. The chicken is coated with a distinctive savory crust, while the pizza is made from an original recipe sauce and special blend of herbs and spices.
At lunchtime, the best seller from the chicken case is a snack pack of two-to-three tenders with jojo potatoes, a roll and a drink, he pointed out. The stores also “sell the heck out of” a two-slices-for-$5 deal on pizza.
“While most pizzas at other stores and restaurants are usually 12 inches or 14 inches, ours is 16 inches, which we cut into six slices,” Matthews explained.
One way that FriendShip stores promote the chain’s lunchtime fare is by bundling the chicken or pizza with complementary items. For a recent NFL weekend promotion, for example, the company partnered with a soft drink producer to offer a large pie with a two-liter bottle for $7.99.
With chicken and pizza doing so well as lunchtime drivers, FriendShip stores are looking to broaden their appeal as a mid-day destination by offering and promoting other options such as Philly steak and pork rib sandwiches, both of which have been well received by customers during their recent menu appearances, Matthews noted. Other LTOs are on the schedule.
Hot Dogs & Grab and Go
In response to customer requests, FriendShip is also ramping up its roller grill program.
“Roller grill is the crux of c-store foodservice,” Matthews remarked. “Customers are asking for hot dogs.”
Besides the ubiquitous hot dogs, FriendShip’s roller grill offers cheddar wurst, Polish sausage and a seasonal LTO such as a hot and spicy dog. The grills are behind the counter for full service, but visible to customers.
Cold sandwiches are grab and go. To spice up that offering, the company is planning to give customers the option to order toppings such as lettuce, tomato and onion added to their sandwiches.
“Those toppings will be added behind the counter,” he said. “We’re not comfortable with self-serve bars yet.”
Matthews pointed out that a growing number of customers are looking for “better-for-you” options at lunchtime. Every day, the stores stock fresh fruit, fruit cups and at least three different types of salads — chef, Caesar and Cobb.
FriendShip is currently working to streamline its menu.
“We’re emphasizing value meals instead of constantly adding new items,” he noted. “Instead of having a lengthy and convoluted menu board, we would have customers purchasing tenders to pick a side and a drink to create their own value package.”
Wings, Hunks & Whole Pies
Hunt Brothers Pizza accounts for about 80% of lunch foodservice sales at Bob Costello’s Cozz Corner store in Oregon, Mo. The other 20% is from chicken wings, and homestyle and Buffalo wing bites also available from Hunt Brothers.
While whole pies sell well during the 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. lunchtime hours, “hunks” (one-quarter of a pizza) sold for grab and go from hot boxes are the most popular option.
Costello offers discount pricing when customers buy a pair of hunks or a double order of chicken.
New Pizza Concept
Clark’s Pump-N-Shop does a “sizeable” lunch business at its 66 locations in Kentucky, West Virginia, Florida and Ohio, according to Jessica Russell, the chain’s food service director.
“I would safely say that lunch accounts for 30% of our foodservice sales,” she added.
Freshly breaded, fried chicken is the main mid-day attraction at Clark’s.
To expand the business during the lunch and dinner dayparts, the company recently introduced a pizza concept called Hangar 54. Hangar 54 is a franchise program that Clark’s runs with its own employees.
“We spent two years working on providing our consumers with a great pizza,” Russell explained. “It was a long process and well worth the patience.”
Clark’s puts out fresh slices for grab and go every 45 minutes, or sooner if required. Whole pizzas, available on 14-inch original and 10-inch gluten-friendly crusts, are out the door in less than 10 minutes.