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CFX Highlights: Brand-Building is Key Among Foodservice Leaders

Convenience Foodservice Exchange keynote speaker Ernie Harker discussed how retailers can differentiate themselves.
Angela Hanson
Senior Editor
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Ernie Harker
Ernie Harker

SAVANNAH, Ga. — From improved branding to equipment upgrades to menu innovation and supply chain challenges, every aspect of today's rapidly changing convenience foodservice market was addressed at the recent 2022 Convenience Foodservice Exchange (CFX), presented by Convenience Store News.

A record 70-plus convenience retailers joined suppliers and other category thought leaders at this year's event, held in June at the Marriott Savannah Riverfront in Savannah, Ga., the Hostess City of the South.

Over the course of two days, CFX attendees:

  • Took in a variety of presentations, panel discussions and Q&A sessions about the most pressing issues and best practices of today;
  • Took part in valuable networking opportunities, including a curated Power Hour that matched retailers and suppliers based on a pre-event questionnaire;
  • Enjoyed a historic tour of downtown Savannah while visiting two of the city's best convenience stores, Enmarket and Parker's; and
  • Went on a walking food tour guided by Savannah Taste Experience.
CFX Savannah Excursion
Attendees enjoyed a tour of downtown Savannah.

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.

CFX Power Hour
A record 70-plus convenience retailers joined suppliers and other category thought leaders at this year's event.

Harker also recommends that c-store operators practice "hierology" to solve their labor shortages, as people want to work for businesses with a good reputation for treating their employees well.

A retailer's employer brand strategy should involve choosing something they can own that is in line with their company values. "Make sure to excel in something you can actually fund or finance," he stressed.

Energetic managers, product sampling and the addition of music can also make a difference in employee retention.

Sponsors of the 2022 Convenience Foodservice Exchange included gold sponsors BOHA!, Core-Mark, Cuhaci Peterson, Finlays, Hoshizaki, Sugar Foods Corp. and UNO Foods; and silver sponsors Supplyit and Southern Visions.

About the Author

Angela Hanson
Angela Hanson is Senior Editor of Convenience Store News. Read More