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A C-store Food Court

S&S Food Stores, a 44-unit convenience store chain operated by Lake City, Fla.-based Scaff's Inc., keeps a watchful eye on Wal-Mart and supermarkets like Publix and Winn-Dixie as well as local c-store competitors. The company checks its rivals for milk, cigarettes and beer pricing often and considers Publix Supermarket to have the best foodservice offering of the local supermarkets, according to Keith Brown, senior vice president of marketing.

A few years ago, S&S Food Stores changed its outlook on foodservice, realizing it couldn't operate a successful Taco Bell in every store. “We could not be successful because of food cost, labor shortages, shrink and workers' compensation costs,” Brown pointed out. “These are the reasons we started to focus on the foodservice concepts, which feature easy-to-prepare items and self-service foods. Our Food Courts have shown positive sales growth and the profits have been comparable to restaurants.”

S&S's Food Court items vary from store to store but consist generally of roller-grill products (including hot dogs, corndogs, egg rolls and sausage), Grill to Go pressed sandwiches, hot boiled peanuts, Philipe's Pizza, soup, microwave dinners (Lean Cuisine, Hungry Man, etc.) and burritos. The chain also has an expanded line of sandwiches from various vendors like Dandee, Lettieri's, Sara Lee and Pierre, as well as a full line of fountain drinks, frozen beverages, coffee and cappuccino.

In addition, three S&S locations operate full-service delis called Anne's Kitchen that specialize in home meal replacement and food-to-go items. Anne's Kitchens serve daily meat-and-veggie entrée meals, fried chicken, made-to-order breakfast items, hamburgers, sandwiches and finger foods for customers to take on the go.

“Besides the traditional take-home meals and multi-piece chicken specials offered in our Anne's Kitchens, the home-meal-replacement offerings are mainly microwave items available in our frozen foods cases,” Brown said. “This is a growing category in our stores. This is an area that manufacturers should target in convenience stores. Customers will prepare these items in the stores for immediate consumption.”

According to Brown, both the company's Food Court offerings and Anne's Kitchen locations have led to positive customer response to the take-away food program. “Home meal replacement is definitely a growing category in our convenience stores and will only get better as more products are available,” he said.

Part of the chain's foodservice success may lie in the fact that Scaff's background is in food. In addition to its c-store business, the company also owns and operates three Scaff's Market grocery locations in Florida with a variety of foodservice options.

“We have been able to incorporate many ideas from the supermarket operations to our c-stores and vice versa,” Brown said. “We learn about new product successes quicker from our supermarket experiences than from the c-store arena. Manufacturers seem to test new products more often through supermarkets. Having a grocery wholesaler is also a benefit from a buying standpoint.”

And like many c-store operators, Brown noted that attracting a new customer demographic through its foodservice operation is never a bad thing. “The foodservice customer is still mostly Bubba, but we have noticed more young people and females buying our foodservice items,” he said. “I believe this trend will continue as long as we keep the areas clean and updated. We have to continue offering new items since, like other categories, this is where the increases are coming from.”

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