NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Talking challenges, sharing solutions and connecting with peers was on the menu at the third-annual in-person meeting of the Convenience Foodservice Alliance, a Convenience Store News community solely dedicated to c-store foodservice professionals.
The meeting was held May 3 in Nashville, a day before the eighth-annual CSNews Convenience Foodservice Exchange (CFX) event got underway. The exclusive networking and experience-focused CFX conference is designed to give attendees actionable knowledge and research to strengthen their foodservice business.
Convenience Foodservice Alliance members are food-forward convenience retail executives and key suppliers and solution providers who meet quarterly to help shape industry best practices and advance the critically important foodservice category across the convenience channel.
Former c-store retailer and current foodservice consultant Jessica Williams, founder and CEO of Food Forward Thinking, kicked off the meeting with a presentation focused on "Telling & Selling Your Foodservice Story." Williams previously led fresh food product development and quality assurance at convenience store chain Thorntons and before that, spearheaded food innovation at Yum! Brands for the Kentucky Fried Chicken brand.
According to Williams, convenience foodservice retailers must keep three things top of mind to tell and sell their foodservice story successfully and consistently:
- Success never happens by accident.
- Curiosity improves design.
- Photographs impact sales.
While planning ahead is a must, Williams acknowledged that those working in fresh food product development are often pressured to come up with new products and flavors quickly and roll them out just as fast. She stressed, though, that one must take a step back and answer certain questions, such as: What is it we're trying to do here? What is it that we want to achieve?
"Why do you think it's a new flavor that people are wanting? Maybe it is. But are we looking to drive transactions? Are we looking to build a basket? Are we looking to get social media engagement? There may be a lot of different ways to get there besides a new flavor. Or maybe that's just a part of it, maybe it's something bigger," she explained.
As for curiosity, Williams urged the group to recognize that they don't have to have all the answers and in fact, the more time they spend each day learning, listening and asking questions, the more likely they are to come across ideas they never would have thought of.
The teams working in the stores can be a valuable resource, especially when it comes to improving processes as they're always looking for more efficiency, she said.
"When we get to have chats with people working at the stores, there's going to always be something that comes up for them that they find a sense of pride in. It might be the way they decorate the doughnut. It might be the way they merchandise just so. It might be that [the store] is really clean. Listen to them and ask them more about that. What is it that connects with that store team? What can you then build on?" she advised.
Williams also advocated for working cross-functionally and seeking ideas from colleagues outside the food and beverage space. "Who do you know that's a creative person in general? Can you find people in your organization who continually think in a different way or bring different ideas to the table? Are there suppliers that are great partners that have nothing at all to do with this project that might be a new set of eyes for it? Some of the best ideas come from left field," she said.
She concluded by noting that inspiration can be found anywhere, so c-store retailers should be looking at their convenience channel peers, quick-service restaurants, Amazon, Tesla, social media influencers and anyone else who's doing a good job of engaging consumers.
"Look for inspiration everywhere, use that curious mindset, and take note when a photo forces you to make a choice. What is it that's selling you? It might just be an experience that you want to mirror or bring to your brand," she said.
Following Williams' presentation, Convenience Foodservice Alliance members participated in roundtable discussions covering a wide range of topics, including:
- The labor and turnover situation, and its impact on foodservice operations;
- Testing and implementation of automation solutions;
- Menu innovation and limited-time offers;
- Innovation around hot, cold and frozen dispensed beverages; and
- Customer usage of mobile ordering and home delivery services.
Anyone interested in joining the Convenience Foodservice Alliance membership community should contact Convenience Store News Editor-in-Chief Linda Lisanti at [email protected]