Roller grill offerings that signal quality to the consumer are likely to drive sales in 2023.
Although many convenience stores are focusing on making investments in on-site kitchens and food preparation, roller grill items are still an important part of c-store foodservice strategy, said John Benson, partner in the restaurants, hospitality and leisure practice at AlixPartners consulting firm.
“In fact, many convenience stores are building out new units with expanded roller grill capacity, and consumers appear to believe that the roller grill can still deliver fresh and quality products,” Benson explained. “Promotions that bundle roller grill items with a drink or another snack especially appeal to value-focused customers and impulse buyers who may not be otherwise visiting with the intent of purchasing prepared foods.”
Benson pointed out that this long-time foodservice staple presents opportunities to grow the category as consumers seek new items and flavors beyond the traditional hot dogs.
“Items such as bratwursts, chicken sausages and even vegetarian sausages, for example, can grow customer reach and sales,” said Trevor Boomstra, partner in the restaurants, hospitality and leisure practice of AlixPartners. “Having a variety of sauces and other toppings also enables customization, and limited-time offers (LTOs) can leverage new sauce introductions while retaining the same core grill offering.”
At Sayre, Pa.-based Dandy Mini Mart’s Dandy Café & Deli, roller grill is not a high priority as the category has been flat, possibly because customers are opting for more healthful food items, noted James Fry, the company’s foodservice director. Sixty out of the total 65 Dandy locations in Pennsylvania and New York sell hot dogs and a few also sell sausages from the roller grill. The remaining five stores have no foodservice offering.
To “breathe some life into the category,” Dandy is planning to add a hot dog complete with grill marks reminiscent of an outdoor barbecue grill to its menu mix later this year. Fry noted that he is also exploring the possibility of adding other non-hot dog items such as tornados.
Eric Mittenthal, president of the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, pointed out that, dollarwise, hot dog sales were up 12.9% over last year across all retail channels. That translated to over $3 billion in sales.
“That’s a good sign that sales are up in spite of price increases across the entire meat sector,” Mittenthal said. “But hot dogs are still — and should remain — a popular choice because they are more economical than many other meats.”
Sausages have also made a “very strong” showing over the past year, up 10% in dollar sales, he noted. Although they are a little more expensive than hot dogs, they account for $5.3 billion in dollar sales.