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C-Store Foodservice Served Up At NRA Show


CSNews' Don Longo and Sheetz EVP Joe Sheetz discussed the future of prepared food

The restaurant industry ranges from ultra casual fast-food joints to premium fine dining, and more than ever, convenience stores are earning a seat at the table. This was apparent at the 2013 National Restaurant Association Show (NRA Show), held May 18-21 at Chicago's McCormick Place.

In the first of two convenience store-specific panels that were part of the show's educational track, Convenience Store News Editor-in-Chief Don Longo teamed up with Sheetz Inc. Executive Vice President and soon-to-be CEO Joe Sheetz to discuss the future of convenience stores as it relates to fresh, prepared food.

Longo presented select insights from CSNews' 2013 Realities of the Aisle consumer study, showing that sandwiches, hot dogs and pizza are among the most popular prepared food items at c-stores, yet offering healthier options appears to be paying off with increased sales. Other opportunities for growth in prepared food can be found through connecting with the right shoppers, optimizing promotions to drive trips and reaching consumers in flexible ways.

Of the total foodservice category, "prepared food is the shining star" at c-stores, Longo said.

Sheetz concluded the presentation with a retrospective on the beginnings of Sheetz Inc. as a business and its evolution into an extremely foodservice-focused chain that considers itself a "convenience restaurant" chain. "Everything we do is through restaurant glasses," he commented.

The family-owned, Altoona, Pa.-based retailer has found success through its Made To Order (MTO) program, which offers customized menu items through touchscreen ordering, as well as its subsequent Made To Go premade food program. Its loyalty program has also done well.

The company keeps a close eye on the future, reinventing itself and always striving to become the Sheetz that will put the Sheetz of today out of business.

The notion of c-stores being competition in the foodservice market was expanded upon during another NRA Show panel entitled, "The Convenience Store Competition: What You Can Learn From C-store Foodservice?" This session was presented by Nancy Caldarola, education director for NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing; Bill Reilly, senior vice president of marketing at GPM Investments LLC, owner of Fas Mart and Shore Stop convenience stores; and Joseph Bona, president of branded environments for CBX.

While convenience stores are facing a number of new challenges as the foodservice category grows, such as handling space and new equipment requirements, rising food costs and needing additional skilled labor beyond their comfort zone, c-stores are also seeing some exciting positive changes, including expanded menus and product offerings, technology to enhance the order process, and expanded fresh and healthy offerings, according to the panelists.

This year's NRA Show attracted more than 62,500 registrants from all 50 states and 100-plus countries.

2013 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show

May 18-21, 2013 Chicago

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