Convenience stores have been rapidly elevating their foodservice programs, experimenting with new food innovations, limited-time offers (LTOs) and menu overhauls. In the process, less common c-store foodservice options are being offered to customers, including seafood.
At York, Pa.-based The Rutter’s Cos., which operates 80-plus locations in Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia, customers can choose from crabcakes, sushi, cod and shrimp in the seafood category.
Each of these options, apart from sushi, is sold through the chain’s touchscreen ordering kiosks and can be customized with different offerings. The sushi is sold out of the cold case.
Rutter’s uses in-store signage and spotlight deals to market its seafood options.
“Currently we have sliders four for $5, and crabcake sliders are a part of this promotion. Each of these products performs very well, with the top-selling offering being our shrimp tacos,” said Chad White, food service category manager, Rutter’s.
Headquartered in Oklahoma City, Love’s Travel Stops, which has 600-plus locations in 42 states, offers two different tuna salad sandwich SKUs in its open-air coolers.
“One is a freeze/thaw retail sandwich from Hillshire Farms that is supplied by our wholesale distributor and is located at approximately 400 convenience stores. The other sandwich is a Love’s-branded item that is prepared on-site in our Fresh Kitchen locations at approximately 200 stores,” said Bryan Street, manager of deli for Love’s.
The sandwiches have been part of bundling opportunities in the past and will continue to be considered for them based on data analyses Love’s leverages.
According to Street, the tuna sandwiches perform well and provide variety for customers.
Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven, which operates, franchises and/or licenses more than 13,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada, offers its customers a fish sandwich as well as a tuna salad sandwich.
The tuna salad sandwich is made with yellow fin and albacore tuna blended with reduced-fat mayonnaise, sweet relish and Dijon mustard.
The chain partnered with the Association of Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers on its fish sandwich. Its garlic herb Wild Alaska Pollock filet is topped with American cheese and tangy tartar sauce and served on a warm brioche bun.
In fact, for the Lenten season, 7-Eleven is offering a deal on the sandwich to its 7Rewards and Speedy Rewards members. These customers can purchase the garlic herb Wild Alaska Pollock filet for $2 on the chain’s Fish Sandwich Fridays.
A Market for Seafood
In terms of seafood, Datassential’s “2023 C-Store Keynote” report showed that 3% of c-store operators currently offer store-made sushi, and 13% plan to offer it. However, at least 18% of customers would be interested in store-made sushi being integrated into their local c-store.
Among those who offer sushi, 67% of c-store retailers reported sales of the food item increased, and 33% noted that sushi sales remained flat.
“It’s exciting to see the (seafood) channel evolve. Customer tastes and demands constantly change, and you must be ready to move quickly before those trends change again,” said Street. “Going to market with innovation continues to be a challenge as the supply chain is still recovering. For us, there is a real opportunity for expanding seafood items in our space.”
Based on Love’s current capabilities, Street continued, he sees opportunity in the hot sandwich and/or taco format as an LTO, allowing the chain to understand product performance and consumer feedback. This will help Love’s build a foundation to expand that product space into additional product offerings.
White agreed that there is room for the seafood category to grow.
“I believe this category will continue to grow. …” he said. “I do see the base items similar to what we carry being the workhorse, with other items such as scallops and clam strips being more limited-time- offer-type features.”