SAVANNAH, Ga. — Although prepared food frequently gets the most focus, beverages are not the also-ran of the foodservice category.
Over the past 10 years, carbonated soft drinks have seen double-digit sales declines, yet soda makes up two-thirds of in-store offerings in the convenience store channel.
During the 2022 Convenience Foodservice Exchange (CFX), hosted by Convenience Store News, Art Lopez, senior marketing director at Finlays, a leading independent B2B supplier of tea, coffee, and botanical solutions for foodservice and beverage brand owners worldwide, advises retailers to proactively create a beverage strategy.
According to Lopez, retailers should focus on key areas to reimagine beverages in their stores:
Unique offerings — Having stores with high-volume foot traffic means c-store operators have the opportunity to drive up sales with interesting beverages.
Prioritize placement and promotion — By making conscious decisions regarding the placement and promotion of exciting in-store offerings, retailers can influence the consumer behavior shift from packaged beverages.
Challenge the status quo — Beverage success involves looking past the 99-cent cup to more innovative beverage offerings.
Become a destination — C-stores have a major opportunity to become the go-to destination for new beverages, poaching audience from cafes and fast-food restaurants.
C-stores should take care to craft the right beverage for the right occasions. The top foods paired with beverages are snacks/side dishes and sandwiches — often during unplanned or impulse visits during the mid-morning and early afternoon — and consumers are most frequently looking to quench their thirst or buy a pick-me-up drink.
The future of beverages involves refreshing, healthy beverages that also taste great, Lopez noted. Retailers can succeed in this segment by recognizing where they stand now and deciding whether they most want to focus on a dispensed, made-to-order or grab-and-go beverage experience.
Understanding that is key, because signage, promotions and store flow all need to be crafted to facilitate the desired outcome, Lopez added.
PLANNING FOR A FOOD-FOCUSED FUTURE
As retailers adapt to the evolving state of convenience foodservice, they should also adapt their menu development processes. Tony Sparks, head of customer wow! at Curby's Express Market, a new concept in Lubbock, Texas, that blends the speed of convenience with high-quality food and beverages, and Jessica Williams, founder of Food Forward Thinking LLC, discussed that process during the final presentation at CFX.
At Curby's, which Sparks described as a c-store where "anything Panera Bread can do, we can do," the company set out key milestones in its menu development:
Curby's focused on three design features in particular that are relevant to the vast majority of convenience foodservice programs:
Built for Speed — Convenience means customers getting in and out quickly. The layout of the preparation area and the store itself should facilitate this, allowing for easy traffic flow that lets shoppers view the menu, order and get their food quickly. Equipment is also a critical aspect of smart design; even those who choose made-to-order options won't want to wait long for their food to be made.
Built for Innovation — Menu favorites like pizza, breakfast burritos and hot dogs are nothing new, but c-stores should build their menu to allow for the addition of creative and interesting spins on the classics to pique customer interest and make themselves stand out. Curby's menu features unique items like a chicken caprese pizza, a cilantro lime brisket breakfast burrito and a hot dog topped with prosciutto, fig and bacon.
Built for Volume — Some products are easy to make, some are more complex, and some must be fresh. Space and labor considerations should be set to allow for certain items to be made ahead of time when possible, leaving time for employees to focus on making the fresh items to order without getting behind on other prep tasks or running out of items. This is particularly important for high-volume stores.
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.