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Congratulations to the 2016 Foodservice Innovators Awards Honorees!

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Convenience Cuisine at Its Finest

QuickChek heads lineup of 2016 Foodservice Innovators Awards Honorees

By Don Longo

QuickChek Corp. is a medium-sized convenience store chain that packs a big punch when it comes to foodservice innovation. The 145-store operator leads this year’s group of six best-in-class convenience foodservice retailers selected as winners in Convenience Store News’ fifth-annual Foodservice Innovators Awards program.

Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based QuickChek earned the esteemed title of 2016 Foodservice Innovator of the Year, chosen by CSNews’ How-To Crew panel of foodservice experts from the retailer, supplier, wholesaler, research and consulting fields. The annual awards program is presented in partnership with Tyson Convenience.

FIA 2016 Winners

Winners are recognized for raising the bar on quality, service and innovation in the fast-growing and critically important foodservice category in the convenience channel. In addition to QuickChek, the other 2016 Foodservice Innovators are:

  • Prepared Foods Innovator of the Year: Corner Store (CST Brands Inc.)  
  • Hot Beverages Innovator of the Year: Circle K (Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.)
  • Cold & Frozen Beverages Innovator of the Year: QuikTrip Corp.
  • Best New Foodservice Program or Item of the Year: Maverik Inc.
  • Best Foodservice Promotion or Limited-Time Offer of the Year: 7-Eleven Inc.

2015 Winners

Foodservice Innovator of the Year: QuickChek

Although it wasn’t the first retailer to launch a mobile app in the convenience channel, QuickChek is likely the first to integrate mobile ordering with its app to support what is already a great foodservice program, one How-To Crew member said in championing the retailer’s nomination for Foodservice Innovator of the Year.

QuickChek launched the mobile ordering service in March for freshly prepared breakfast items, custom-made subs and salads. Customers can place orders between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. and select their desired pickup time at any of the chain’s stores throughout New Jersey, New York’s Hudson Valley and Long Island. Orders are prepared to coincide with the selected time of pickup to ensure freshness and correct temperatures.

Mobile ordering is the result of customer demand, according to QuickChek CEO Dean Durling, whose company has also seen an increase in sales of its signature bakery products made via in-store ovens, freshly made sandwiches, and custom-made espresso-based drinks. Also on the tech front, QuickChek in early 2015 rolled out a self-ordering kiosk system for foodservice.

The retailer has been an early innovator around the currently hot foodservice snack daypart, too. It introduced a cheeseburger egg roll to its fresh snacks menu that also includes Buffalo Style Jack n’ Blue Cheese Sticks, Apple Cinnamon Twists, Sweet Dough Pretzel Knots, Popcorn Chicken, Jalapeno Poppers, Mac & Cheese Wedges, Fresh Braided Pretzels, Pizza Stix and Buffalo Chicken Stix.

And, late last year, QuickChek rolled out a walking taco line of chips and toppings, targeting on-the-go millennials. Customers can design their own walking taco by choosing a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos, Cool Ranch Doritos or Fritos, and adding their choice of toppings: QuickChek’s signature spicy chili, shredded cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions and olives. The chain also expanded its menu with the addition of six signature Mac & Cheese Bowls.

On the foodservice beverage front, How-To Crew members cited QuickChek’s successful and broad choice of cold and frozen beverages, including coffee-based refreshments. Plus, the company’s award-winning coffee program continues to be a model in the hot beverages area for its seamless introduction of made-to-order service and large variety of condiments.

As one How-To Crew member said, “QuickChek is really a class act that is quiet, but they deserve accolades” for continuously improving their foodservice offer.

QuickChek previously won an honorable mention for Foodservice Innovator of the Year in CSNews’ 2013 awards program and was Hot Beverages Innovator of the Year in 2014 when it rolled out its signature Reserve Blend coffee.

Prepared Foods Innovator of the Year: Corner Store

Corner Store, the flagship brand of San Antonio, Texas-based parent company CST Brands, previously won Best Foodservice Promotion or Limited-Time Offer in 2012 – the same year as its future sister chain, Nice N Easy, won honorable mention in the Prepared Foods Innovator of the Year category. Nice N Easy also won honorable mention in 2013 for Best New Foodservice Program or Item, and was honored in 2014 as Prepared Foods Innovator of the Year.

Indeed, Nice N Easy’s fresh-food program was one of the things that attracted CST Brands to acquire the Canastota, N.Y.-based chain. Now, CST’s Corner Store customers are getting a taste of what central New York diners have been enjoying for a decade.

This year, CST expanded the Melt Program, a “grown-up” version of the grilled cheese sandwich, to its Texas and Canada stores. The Melt Program originated in Nice N Easy’s Easy Street Eatery concept and is now part of the broader CST family across North America. The program consists of the Two Alarm Turkey Melt, Philly Steak Melt, State Fair Melt, Three Cheese Melt, and the classic Reuben Melt, plus a Smoked Meat Reuben for the Canadian market.

Why is the Melt Program growing so rapidly? “Because it’s good. Seriously, it’s really, really good, and can be made fast and made-to-order. It’s a very popular and fast-growing item,” according to one How-To Crew member.

Under the direction of longtime foodservice maven, Dr. Jack Cushman, and chefs David Haynes and Andrew Franco, CST is also expanding made-to-order subs and pizza from New York to Texas to the provinces of Ontario and Quebec in Canada.

Our How-To Crew members also lauded the retailer’s use of social media, billboards, print, direct mailers, commercials and radio to attract customers to its improved foodservice offering.

Hot Beverages Innovator of the Year: Circle K

This is the first time in the Foodservice Innovators winners’ circle for Circle K. The new global convenience store brand of Canada-based Alimentation Couche-Tard is being recognized for recent enhancements made to its hot beverage offering. 

How-To Crew members pointed to several areas that have been addressed in a major category refresh that is going on across the entire Circle K store base and driven by the international retailer successfully sharing best practices throughout its footprint.

Its new global coffee program, first implemented in Europe, features:

  • An improved presentation that helps elevate the perceived quality of the products. Old coffee brewers have been replaced with new, all-stainless-steel ones. New, lighter-colored countertops have been installed, along with digital menu boards. The result is a fresh feel that is pleasant and compels customers into the area for a closer look.
  • An enhanced product offering with the addition of espresso-based drinks such as cappuccino, mochaccino and café latte. These products help provide an excellent alternative that is more affordable than the coffeehouse versions, while still commanding a nice premium compared to the store’s traditional coffee lineup.
  • New, double-walled paper cups are both enhancing the taste experience and demonstrating environmental responsibility.
  • Expanded condiments support the growing sales of espresso drinks.

Circle K is actively trying to make it easier for the customer. One example is its more customer-centric terminology, moving from a cup size based on ounces to a more relative description of small, medium and large.

In the stores where this program has been implemented, customer response has been very positive, according to the company’s nominators.  

Cold & Frozen Beverages Innovator of the Year: QuikTrip

QuikTrip has been a frequent winner in the CSNews Foodservice Innovators Awards program. In 2012, the Tulsa, Okla.-based chain was the Cold & Frozen Beverages Innovator of the Year; in 2013, it was Hot Beverages Innovator of the Year; in 2014, the retailer won two honorable mentions for Cold & Frozen Beverages Innovator and Best New Foodservice Program or Item; and finally, last year, the chain was Prepared Foods Innovator of the Year.

QuikTrip recognizes all the current trends in the cold and frozen beverages categories, and has quality programs in place that take advantage of them. The QT mega-fountain offers the latest in flavors and lifestyle additives, such as extra caffeine and proprietary sports drinks.

The selection for frozen carbonated and non-carbonated drinks is likewise better than most of its competitors, including custom flavors; and its dispensed beverage offer also includes four flavors of fresh, made-on-premises iced tea in both unsweetened and sweetened varieties.

QuikTrip, as part of its QT Kitchens foodservice program rollout, also added a full-service, soft-serve ice cream machine for making customizable shakes and cones. Hand-made, made-to-order smoothies are served as well by QT Kitchens attendants.

“They have a wide range of selection, terrific presentation, sharp prices and always top cleanliness,” said one How-To Crew member. And another added: “They’re still the best.”

Best New Foodservice Program or Item of the Year: Maverik

Another frequent winner in the Foodservice Innovators Awards program, Maverik takes home this year’s prize for Best New Foodservice Program or Item for its BonFire Grill made-to-order pizza. Previously, the Salt Lake City-based retailer won Best New Foodservice Program or Item in 2012; Best Foodservice Promotion or Limited-Time Offer in 2013; and was named the Foodservice Innovator of the Year in 2014.

Maverik this year continues to push the boundaries of fresh foodservice in the convenience channel by piloting the BonFire Grill pizza program, featured in the chain’s completely redesigned stores where fresh-food preparation takes center stage.

Neapolitan-style pizza on wood-fire infused crusts, with specialty flavors like Classic Italian and Spicy Thai Chicken, use high-quality ingredients (think Calabrian chilies and fresh Asian slaw) to create unique, destination-worthy food.

The pizzas come in two convenient sizes: a personal size that’s perfect for the lunch daypart, and a 12-inch size that spans the dayparts and reaches into the dinnertime offering.

By the end of this year, the BonFire Grill program (including pizza) will have been rolled out to more than 40 Maverik locations within the nearly 300-store chain. The company is also testing a few complementary made-to-order concepts like premium burgers, specialty subs and tacos to determine the best offers for expanding the BonFire Grill brand.

Best Foodservice Promotion or Limited-Time Offer of the Year: 7-Eleven

7-Eleven celebrated the 50th anniversary of its iconic Slurpee frozen beverage line this summer with a number of timely and unique promos that caught the attention of our How-To Crew members.

The nation’s largest convenience store retailer reportedly gave away an estimated 9 million free small Slurpees on Free Slurpee Day, July 11. 7-Eleven also introduced a Birthday Cake Slurpee flavor. Fanta Birthday Cake combines the tastes of birthday cake and vanilla ice cream.

The 50th anniversary campaign went beyond the Slurpee machine, too, with Slurpee-branded and -flavored items throughout the store, including doughnuts, lollipops, cotton candy, marshmallow pops, candy straws, Pop-Tarts, Chapstick, beach towels, socks, insulated beverage holders, T-shirts, and Slurpee party packs including a selfie stick.

Other innovative Slurpee promos this year included the launch of the Big Red Slurpee as a new summer variety. Big Red soda has strong roots in Texas and was made available in more than 650 participating 7-Eleven stores in the Lone Star State – part of 7-Eleven’s efforts to showcase national and regional soda favorites by recreating them as Slurpee flavors.

A second summer partnership, this time with Sour Patch Kids candy, led to the creation of the Sour Patch Redberry Slurpee. This limited-time variety was only available through the end of the retailer’s “100 Days of Summer” campaign. Mondelez International Inc.’s Sour Patch Kids is the No. 1 sour candy brand overall and a top-selling candy at 7-Eleven stores, while fruit-flavored Slurpees are among the most popular drinks with 7-Eleven customers.

And, just when you thought 7-Eleven couldn’t take the Slurpee craze any further, it introduced a limited-time Wild Cherry Slurpee doughnut. The bakery treat consisted of a cake doughnut speckled with pink inside and topped with wild cherry-flavored icing and sugar crystals.

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