NATIONAL REPORT — With more on their plates at home and at work, consumers increasingly want in-and-out, quality, fresh food options, which means convenience store operators must ensure that their grab-and-go foodservice sections are on point at all times — day and night.
Here is a top five rundown of some of the best ideas and strategies in grab-and-go product assortment, packaging, merchandising, marketing and more:
1. Commit to Fresh
This seems obvious, but experts say there is still a hesitation in the convenience channel toward committing to the necessary labor and management that offering fresh food requires. Limited space is also a factor. However, to be successful, there can be no halfway commitment here. If a c-store wants to be a grab-and-go foodservice destination, it must be all in on the fresh-food commitment.
2. Partner with Local Vendors
Passport Café at the University of Richmond in Virginia is a convenience store-like retail operation with a grab-and-go selection that has grown and evolved since its opening in 2010. One of the significant ways Passport Café has grown is through partnerships with local vendors. Working with area businesses allows it to capitalize on their expertise and on the excellent quality of their goods.
"Customers are very aware of the local food movement," Karen Kourkoulis, chef and manager of Passport Café, told Convenience Store News. "When we partner with a local business, word-of-mouth travels quickly, and the quality of the products speak for themselves."
3. Consistently Introduce Variety
Customers pick up on new items and trends, and are adventurous eaters when given the chance to explore new cuisines, according to Kourkoulis.
Dana Evaro, vice president of marketing for Land Mark Products Inc. — home of the Piccadilly Circus Pizza and Day'n Night Bites grab-and-go brands — agrees, and says part of this practice should be featuring limited-time offers (LTOs).
LTOs are important "to keep interest and create buzz," Evaro told CSNews. As an example, he cited that Piccadilly Circus Pizza is working to replicate, for a limited time, popular flavors in other categories onto a pizza, such as the Big Mac and Nashville Chicken.
The LTO trend also includes new packaging and program ideas such as that of Dannon Foodservice and its recently launched Snack Hacks program, which is aimed at better-for-you snacking solutions. Each Snack Hacks recipe incorporates Dannon Oikos Greek Nonfat Yogurt, which is available in bulk sizes. This product can serve as a better-for-you ingredient swap in a variety of recipes because it is lower in fat and calories than full-fat sour cream, cream cheese or mayonnaise, according to the company.
The range of Snack Hacks recipe ideas include parfaits, overnight oats, hummus and salad options. Operators can sign up online to receive a free Snack Hacks kit that includes point-of-sale materials to use on-shelf, ready-made social media posts to promote products, and culinary inspiration for grab-and-go snacks.
4. Don't Expect a Long Shelf LifE
"Fresh" and "long shelf life" should not co-exist, Evaro maintains. C-store retailers who are seriously committed to fresh foodservice should consider the company cultures of all their grab-and-go suppliers, as well as their own culture.
"Every decision made needs to work toward giving the consumer the freshest and best food experience we possibly can. When that is achieved, sales will grow," said Evaro.
5. Realize the Need for Speed
One of the most important factors in a successful grab-and-go fresh foodservice program is speed, as Altoona, Pa.-based convenience store chain Sheetz Inc. can attest. Through a partnership with SMG (Service Management Group), Sheetz found that for food-focused customers, speed of service is a top driver and offers the greatest opportunity.
"Not only is it the top driver of an experience with Sheetz, but it's also a huge opportunity for us," said Shianna Peace, program manager at Sheetz, which operates more than 565 stores throughout Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and North Carolina. Speed of service can help build customer loyalty, too, she added.
To increase speed, you must know where any delays stem from, according to Peace. Sheetz recently discovered that food-focused customers who have negative experiences are more likely to talk about inattentive store associates, overly long wait times, preparation errors, and a lack of urgency.
When customers perceive a good attitude and helpfulness from associates and also experience speedy service, that's when they're most likely to return, Peace explained. "It's when fast meets friendly," she said.
She highlighted Sheetz #587, where a general push to just "do things faster" didn't work out recently. The store saw its lowest satisfaction ratings at lunch and dinner, so it took steps to address problems with speed at those times. This included 30-minute cleanliness checks of the store's Fizz City offering and seating area, along with a cashier/kitchen support plan that provides a procedure for getting assistance when foodservice orders begin to stack up. As a result, the store's satisfaction ratings have improved.
Click below to download our full report, "In & Out," which includes another five ideas for maximizing your grab-and-go foodservice offering.