SAVANNAH, Ga. — Foodservice may be big business for the convenience store industry, but presenters at the 2022 Convenience Foodservice Exchange, hosted by Convenience Store News, also took the time to highlight the importance of small.
Several retailers shared ways that convenience stores can boost their foodservice programs without making sweeping adjustments during the panel "Small Changes — Big Returns: How Focused Improvements Can Bring Bountiful Results." Participants included Ryan Krebs, foodservice director at Savannah-based Enmarket; Dave Grimes, vice president of foodservice at Carmi, Ill.-based Martin & Bayley Inc./Huck's Market; and Jeff Hagans, category manager at Greenville, S.C.-based The Spinx Co.
Challenges and limitations presented by the COVID-19 pandemic made it hard to innovate or roll out major new launches, but Enmarket learned to "pivot, don't pause," according to Krebs.
He listed multiple smaller initiatives that yielded success for Enmarket, such as locating a produce expert to deliver local, in-season fruits to stores, which grew several hundred percent; swapping out a generic frozen carbonated beverage program for Coke-branded products to leverage strong brand recognition; and adding individually wrapped doughnuts with a 75-day shelf life.
Adding branding to coffee cups, hot dog containers and other packaging also strengthened marketing for minimal investment.
Grimes highlighted the importance of "theater" around foodservice and dispensed beverages to draw attention. New graphics, significant additional signage and other methods of guiding customers to the roller grill and coffee station contributed to sales, and the rollout of a "guaranteed to love it or it's free" promise generated buzz.
Catering has also been "huge" for Huck's, Grimes said. Along with the actual sale, it serves as a marketing opportunity to reach consumers attending the school function or sporting event being catered. "We may not have gotten food in their mouths any other way," he said.
Finally, while consumers have increasingly resumed dining out, Hagans advised retailers not to overlook the value of take-home food. Spinx used the same chicken to make take-home meals for the fresh case, which provided steady incremental sales growth.
He also seconded the importance of fresh fruit. Spinx first began working with a fresh fruit provider to add it to smaller stores that didn't have access to the company's commissary several years ago, only to see sales "just skyrocket."
While the small changes that yield the best results will vary from c-store to c-store, Krebs offered advice on identifying the right opportunities.
"Focus on the things that are small enough to change but big enough to matter," he said.
During the panel "Small is the New Big: The Future State of Convenience, Innovation and Food," design firm Cuhaci Peterson's Nathan Griffiths, principal, and Greg Simpson, CEO, touched on how c-stores can use technology to innovate in foodservice while working around barriers to entry.
Robotic kitchen equipment may be one future for foodservice, but the cost presents a high barrier for entry. Examples of equipment with lower barriers include ventless technology to replace oil-based fryers, which expand business while providing accumulative savings.
When considering which types of foodservice technology to invest in, retailers should look first at technology that is truly directed towards convenience and that focuses on the customer.
Additionally, design differentiation should include meeting customers where they are; focusing on food in all its forms; and creating sales channels that customers want.
Above all, they noted, c-store operators should remember that one size does not fit all. Their foodservice operations should fit their brand and their definition of convenience.
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.