During his opening keynote speech, Ernie Harker, former marketing guru at Maverik Inc. and current consultant and author, shared advice on how to boost the odds of foodservice success despite the current difficulties presented by a struggling supply chain and a tight labor market.
Branding and its ability to convey a chain's individual qualities is particularly important in the convenience channel, as the vast majority of SKUs are common across most retailers, he said.
"It is imperative that we differentiate in some remarkable way," Harker said, noting that such differentiation is key in whether a customer comes to visit one c-store or its competitor across the street. While many c-store brands want to stay in "the safety zone" of not being too different from their competitors, this also means they are unlikely to be noticed, according to Harker.
Differentiation alone, however, is not enough.
"Great branding isn't just being different. Great branding allows you to tell the story of your unique brand," he explained.
Logos are a starting point, serving as a quick, visual shorthand to the full experience of visiting a particular c-store brand. Other steps to standing out recommended by Harker included:
Have a signature item/signature sides — For a c-store that focuses on chicken, it's not just about having chicken, but rather what makes that chicken awesome. The same applies to sides. He pointed to Rutter's giant grilled cheese sandwich, Casey's taco pizza, Wawa's seasonal Gobbler and the biscuits at Church's Chicken as examples of strong signature items.
Innovate — Innovation doesn't have to require the stretching of resources, which may be difficult to find these days amid gaps in the supply chain. McDonald's, for instance, was able to generate excitement by launching the limited-time Land, Air & Sea Sandwich, which required only standard ingredients shared by its main menu items.
Spread the word — Retailers should consider creative ways to reach out to influencers. Dropping off a complimentary order of food with a note at a radio station may or may not result in being mentioned on air, but it is a way of extending a brand's reach in a relatively inexpensive manner.