This month, two new studies on foodservice in C-Stores were released by Convenience Store News and Convenience Store Decisions. We’re breaking them down, bringing you the most important highlights and sharing some of the best trends to stay on top of so you never miss a beat.
C-store retailers have known food to be a major portion of sales for quite some time. This used to just mean quick stop breakfast and lunch, but dinner is finally making its mark on sales, up 17% from last year of total food sales! Also important to note is that fresh food prepared on site posted the largest category gain from 2011 to 2014. This means it’s time to really put a focus on that foodservice program for your c-store.
Business hours are no longer just 9-5, so it’s important have a good strategy to encourage food and beverage purchase at your location for each day part! Equally important is understanding your customer demographics and catering to their needs and wants. For example c-stores tend to attract more men than women and appeal to lower income consumers. Using demographic knowledge can help you to carve out an ideal food program for your most popular consumer. Remember, what you like doesn’t matter, it’s important to offer what your consumer likes.
How can you improve your food program?
- High quality with a wide variety of options is key to reaching millennials who expect the best in all of their shopping. Shoot for items with quality ingredients, gluten free or vegan options, and low fat/healthy alternatives to all work together to provide your guests with the experience they crave.
- According to Convenience Store Decisions Editor in Chief, John Lofstock, “whatever level of food you feel comfortable delivering – the simplest or the most complicated – just deal with fresh quality and value. But the ultimate piece is consistency. You have to be able to deliver great food consistently.”
- Keep in mind, 9 out of 10 consumers say the most important elements of foodservice are taste and flavor of the food and food quality.
- Bundling and deals are a great way to increase spending. BOGO and ‘buy a meal get a drink free’ programs both will increase check totals without much effort on your end. This is especially true for morning foodservice and tying in a hot beverage to the purchase of food or vice versa.
- Speaking of beverages, there is a strong correlation between a successful hot beverage program and successful food program. Today’s consumers expect full-scale coffee with grate taste and consistency.
- The placement of food is also an important factor on sales. The destination needs to be easy to get to and highly visible. If space is limited, look into countertop equipment and fully enclosed units.
- When starting a program, especially in the hot foods segment, brand recognition can help your customers feel confident in your product. Instead of just offering churros, how about Oreo churros to entice the customer to try something already familiar to them.
One critical key to an effective foodservice program is using the right equipment. Equipment should be optimized for space and usability and offer long term return on investment. You want equipment that is easy to service and clean and can also output high quality food. The easiest way to achieve a quick ROI is with a piece of multitasking equipment. Ideally you want something that can bake, cook and reheat all to perfection in a short amount of time. While not every piece of equipment needs to be able to do it all, you should look into a multitasking unit as a strong component of your foodservice program.
CSNews recommends allowing the menu to drive which type of equipment you purchase and not the other way around. This means you need to evaluate what your consumers want out of a foodservice program first, and then you can look into the purchase of equipment to help you get there.
What should you look for?
- Microwaves and high speed ovens are widely recognized as a useful piece of foodservice equipment for the c-store industry, great for hitting all day parts. One drawback to microwaves is the decrease in food quality, so consider a high speed over without microwave assist like the MultiChef oven.
- CSNews also recommends fryers as an important piece of equipment as there is an endless variety of things than can be fried. If space or safety is a concern, consider a fully enclosed and automated deep fryer like the AutoFry.
- Focus on flexibility and ease of use. You want equipment that will be easy to train employees how to use and more importantly, easy for them to clean and maintain.
- Make sure any purchase you make has a reasonable return on investment as the initial cost on equipment is typically pretty steep. You want to be sure that you’ve made back that initial purchase price within the first six months of ownership.
We’ll here’s some good news for our c-store operators, the convenience channel has improved considerably over the last two years. From new sales opportunities to an increase in last minute shopping, c-stores finally have a promising outlook with the right management and strategies in place. Seasonality is one location poised for improvement in the coming years, leveraging the changing seasons, holidays and even movie releases with promotional items are all areas to work on. And while it’s important to get that seasonal food product in store in a timely manner it’s even more important to have an exit strategy for seasonal success.
So what can you do to improve your seasonal strategy?
- High traffic locations are ideal for seasonal displays with secondary displays near popular locations like the register, foodservice counter, or any other location the customer is likely to have to stand and wait at. While customers wait, take advantage of the wondering eye and give them something good to look at!
- The checkout counter is a great place for small seasonal impulse buys.
- A healthy variety of seasonal items is key to hitting all target markets.
- Key an eye on competitors. C-Store News recommends watching the drug and dollar store channels for a good reference on seasonal planning and promotion.
- Know your timing, seasonality peaks in February and March and declines in August. Use statistics to your advantage by with appropriate timing.
The Final Word
As we mentioned earlier, c-stores have a great outlook for the coming years, especially with the uptick in foodservice possibilities. There is so much a store can offer with very limited resources, it just takes a dedicated team and a good plan in place. Make sure as you begin your foodservice planning that you focus on the consumer first and foremost. Research is key to a good strategy and with the prevalence of e-media it’s easier than ever before to gather data on your target consumers.
*Information gathered from the February 2015 editions of Convenience Store News and Convenience Store Decisions.