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Catering to Customers' Needs


LAS VEGAS – For convenience store retailers with a well-established foodservice offer, one way to take their program to the next level is to branch out into catering. "Catering" is a word that sounds scary, but it really isn't, presenters at the "Catering to Their Needs" educational session assured NACS Show attendees.

"Don't let the word 'catering' scare you away," said Matt Lachut, director of c-store merchandising for Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle/GetGo. "You can make it as simple or complex as you want it to be."

To start out, Lachut suggested retailers first ask themselves, "What do I do well?" Then, build a catering program upon that. For Giant Eagle's GetGo convenience stores, what they do well is subs, and so the chain's first foray into "GetGo to Go" catering was with a $25.99 sub platter that gives customers their choice of three large made-to-order subs and one bag of Giant Eagle chips.

Since then, the retailer has expanded into muffin trays, cookie trays and the "GetGo Lunch Box," which includes a four-inch sub, bag of Giant Eagle chips, apple wedges, cookie and a bottled water for $7.99.

Lachut said catering leads to incremental sales, larger overall baskets, awareness, trial and new customer segments. "If you have a great product, there's nothing better than getting that product into someone's mouth," he explained, adding that dropping into local businesses with sample platters is an especially effective marketing tactic to spread the word about a new catering program.

For Casey's General Stores Inc., based in Ankeny, Iowa, the c-store chain's pizza delivery program was the gateway for its catering program. "People were asking us if we deliver other things," said Darryl Bacon, vice president of foodservice for the retailer, which specializes in serving small towns.

Bacon shared with attendees that Casey's has found school functions, such as Friday night football games at the local high schools and PTA meetings, present a wealth of catering opportunities.

"Some of your stores may be in small towns. Don't give up on the small towns," he urged.

Seasonal events and holidays are also good to leverage in the catering business, according to Karen Kilday Sherwood, founder and CEO of Nourish Market, which operates two locations in Virginia and is known as the "healthy catering option" in its area.

Among the seasonal opportunities Nourish Market has successfully tapped into are Thanksgiving, for which it offers a full dinner to go, and Valentine's Day, when it offers a $110 ready-made dinner for two that even includes chocolate-covered strawberries and a dozen organic roses.

"If you package food on a tray and send it out the door, that's catering," Sherwood said, dispelling the perception that catering is too complex for convenience stores. "It's taking what customers love about your store and making them your emissaries."


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