SAVANNAH, Ga. — Marketing, operations and financials are three critical aspects of keeping a convenience store foodservice program running.
According to Kay Heritage, founder of Big Bon Foods LLC, they are also the foundation of a three-legged stool, supporting what truly sets a business apart from its competitors: purpose and value.
Big Bon Foods' purpose is simply "to raise up more entrepreneurs," Heritage said during the "New Convenience Retailer Panel" at the 2022 Convenience Foodservice Exchange, hosted by Convenience Store News. An entrepreneur who operates a wood-fired bagel and pizza shop, food truck and ghost kitchen in Savannah, Heritage looks at her employees as individuals and tries to coach them in business and life skills.
"Foodservice is not the final destination of younger employees," she said. "So focus on the purpose of why they exist from the beginning." She pointed to her baker who ultimately wants to be a jazz musician and is happy to work a shift that fits around his practices and gigs.
"If they're willing to learn, we invest in them," Heritage said. "We ask them what they really want to do." As a result, Big Bon Foods has not struggled with labor shortages.
It benefits retailers to think of employees as their No. 1 asset, no matter the size of the business, said co-panelist Bassem Nowyhed, multifranchise owner of ampm c-stores and founder and CEO of Invig Consulting.
"They're the ones that are running your business," he said, pointing out that store employees drive the customer base through their customer service and attitude.
In addition to investing in them, Nowyhed suggests that retailers look to make the workday more engaging for employees. One method is to gamify things — for example, the first person to sell a certain amount of a newly introduced product receives a major bonus.
"Everyone loves hitting targets and goals," he said.
During the panel, Heritage and Nowyhed touched on other relevant topics, including:
Healthy products — In general, people are starting to transition to more health-conscious food, which means c-store operators should seek to offer a blend of healthy options and indulgent ones. Nowyhed pointed to Foxtrot as a good example of a chain than balances health and convenience.
Inspiration — Retailers can, and should, imitate and be inspired by those who are doing foodservice well without being copycats. "It's okay to look at who's doing a great job," Heritage said. "We learn from the masters."
Omnichannel — This aspect of technology is vital to maximizing foodservice profits. "If you're not somehow integrating omnichannel […] there's a lot of money being left on the table," Nowyhed said. "The new convenience is taking that product of yours and bringing it to the consumer's hands without them having to drive to your facility."
Eight Must-Take Steps for Success
In addition to revisiting their purpose and values, c-store operators need to push beyond rhetoric if they want to succeed in foodservice, according to Howland Blackiston, co-principal of restaurant and retail consultancy King-Casey.
To date, many chains have refrained from making more than evolutionary or incremental changes to their foodservice offerings, rather than bold moves to seize the competitive advantage, Blackiston said. This is largely due to a cultural resistance to change, perceptions of disadvantages, and the lack of a stunning crisis to drive revolutionary innovations and improvements.
"I don't think the pain is there yet," he said.
Blackiston pointed to eight "absolutes" for c-stores to get serious about foodservice success:
Brand your foodservice business — From décor to equipment to ordering methods, everything should communicate "food" to the customer.
Have a proprietary/signature menu — Parker's fried chicken and Texas Born's tacos are examples that make the chains memorable. "Developing a signature item is an important step," Blackiston said.
Create a menu strategy — business objectives determine strategies in tactics, which are applied to categories and then individual products.
Offer off-premise solutions — This can include digital ordering, delivery and drive-thru, as well as other unconventional means. Blackiston called out Chick-fil-a's habit of "line-busting" by sending store employees out to the drive-thru line to take orders
Design a distinctive environment — Foodservice initiatives such as Whole Foods Market's Ramen Bar intentionally signal that "this is a place to eat."
Create a foodservice culture — This must start at the top, because nothing at a chain will happen "unless the people at the top say they want it to happen."
Embrace continuous improvement — Zone-specific innovation and improvement teams should continuously focus on identifying and solving improvement opportunities.
Innovate through technology — Not every piece of technology will be relevant to every brand, but technology can be used to create a proprietary branded experience.
The 2022 Convenience Foodservice Exchange took place in Savannah on June 21-22. A record 70-plus convenience retailers joined suppliers and other category thought leaders at this year's event, held at the Marriott Savannah Riverfront in Savannah, the Hostess City of the South.
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.