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12/07/2021

Convenience Foodservice Alliance Holds First In-Person Meeting

Charter members of the Convenience Store News community discussed the new foodservice landscape.
Angela Hanson
Senior Editor
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Convenience Foodservice Alliance

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charter members of the Convenience Foodservice Alliance (CFA), a Convenience Store News community, discussed the major challenges and opportunities in the convenience foodservice space during their first in-person meeting, held recently prior to the 2021 CSNews Convenience Foodservice Exchange event. 

The CFA is a membership community dedicated solely to foodservice professionals in the convenience store industry. Through access to valuable benefits, shared research and powerful connections, members help shape industry best practices that will assist all industry participants in regaining and growing their sales and profits in the critically important foodservice category in the convenience channel.

In an industry facing challenges on many fronts — the pandemic, regulations, labor, safety, supply, and technology — the CFA aspires to help convenience foodservice professionals, suppliers and solution providers work collaboratively to solve problems and inspire bold ideas for the future.

Today's new retail reality involves the c-store industry evolving and accelerating the quality of its food, along with the depth and breadth of the range of products on offer, according to Joseph Bona of Bona Design Lab and James Owens of HFA Architects, who presented during the inaugural in-person CFA meeting. 

"We're starting to see people evolving beyond equipment on a counter," Bona said during the "Revolutionizing Convenience Foodservice" presentation. 

The basic consumer needs to refuel, refresh and relieve have remained unchanged, but consumers these days are heavily influenced by their preexisting expectations, and it takes just one retailer to change the entire perception of something.

New elements in today's retail reality include better curated food experiences, heightened competitive formats, and new c-store players such as The Goods Mart and Foxtrot.

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted numerous changes to foodservice operations, but ultimately many of them will prove to be short-term distractions rather than long-term disruptions, the speakers noted. Pandemic-related changes such as plexiglass barriers and social distancing measures are largely expected to be rolled back.

However, there is stronger potential for disruption by:

  • An enhanced focus on food hygiene;
  • An increase in delivery services;
  • Expansion of new formats (curbside pickup, walk-up windows, etc.);
  • Enhanced sanitation;
  • Transition to contactless; and
  • Improved packaging. 

C-stores can look to quick-service restaurants' drive-thrus for guidance in mastering the art of vehicular transactions. Options can include expanded ordering tablets, additional queueing lanes, outdoor heaters, and more.

Retailers should remember that one size does not fit all, and success can come from a wide range of service levels and menu offers. Among the factors that separate low performers from high performers in the foodservice space are the ability to: think and act like a restaurant; enhance food appeal by delivering a more thoughtful retail experience; and invest in people, product and productivity.

Above all else, retailers must build internal competencies and execute at a high level.

OVERCOMING CHALLENGES

During a roundtable discussion, CFA members discussed a variety of topics relevant to foodservice operations today. 

Some of the biggest challenges currently are the labor crisis and disruptions to the supply chain, both of which have a significant effect on day-to-day operations.

Members recommended streamlining the hiring process as much as possible to avoid potential employees finding work elsewhere while waiting to hear back, and adjusting training to ensure new hires feel supported as they get up to speed in their new roles.

Providing regularly scheduled updates on supply problems and guidance on how employees should handle issues with product availability can also be helpful.

Looking ahead, the CFA members said they expect to make further use of technology to facilitate alternate purchase methods, as customers have gotten so used to this convenience during the COVID-19 pandemic that no one wants to go back to how things used to be. Although consumers still care about price, the key benefit of ordering ahead via mobile app is time savings. Contactless payment methods are important, too.

As they adjust their marketing tactics, retailers are focusing on the quality of their core items rather than price point. Social media and digital signage are proving useful due to their flexibility and the ability to adjust them in real time.

Supply chain troubles are hindering the ability to effectively innovate, but the operators said they are doing what they can to continue their innovative efforts and be ready to hit the ground running when the disruptions begin to ease.

About the Author

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