Foodservice Innovation at Its Finest


Wawa takes gold in 2013 CSNews Foodservice Innovators Awards

Eleven of the convenience store industry’s best-in-class foodservice retailers earned gold and silver medals in Convenience Store News’ second annual Foodservice Innovators Awards program.

The CSNews Foodservice Innovators Awards, sponsored by Tyson Foods, the giant processor and marketer of chicken, beef, pork and various prepared foods, recognizes convenience retail leaders that are raising the bar on quality, service and innovation in this fast-growing and critically important product category for c-stores.

Two winners, chosen by CSNews’ 18-member panel of How To Do World-Class Foodservice experts, were named in each of the six award categories. This year’s Foodservice Innovator of the Year gold medal winner is Wawa Inc., the Pennsylvania-based chain of more than 600 convenience stores in the Mid-Atlantic states and Florida.

QuickChek Corp., the New Jersey-based chain of 135 c-stores, took home this year’s silver medal in the Foodservice Innovator of the Year category, while last year’s overall gold medalist Rutter’s Farm Stores won two awards this year: a gold medal for Best Prepared Foods Innovator and a silver medal for Best Foodservice Limited-Time Offer/Promotion.

Here’s the full list of the 2013 Foodservice Innovators Awards winners:

Best Prepared Foods Innovator
Gold winner: Rutter’s Farm Stores
Silver winner: Sheetz Inc.

Best Hot Beverages Innovator
Gold winner: QuikTrip Corp.
Silver winner: Speedway LLC

Best Cold & Frozen Beverages Innovator
Gold winner: RaceTrac Petroleum Inc.
Silver winner: Cumberland Farms Inc.

Best New Foodservice Program (introduced in past year)
Gold winner: Tedeschi Food Shops Inc.
Silver winner: Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes Inc.

Best Foodservice Limited-Time Offer/Promotion
Gold winner: Maverik Inc.
Silver winner: Rutter’s Farm Stores

Foodservice Innovator of the Year
Gold winner: Wawa Inc.
Silver winner: QuickChek Corp.


Earlier this year, CSNews sent ballots to our How To Crew of foodservice experts and asked them to vote on their choices for top foodservice innovators in the six categories. We tallied up the votes from our panel, which includes top-tier retailers, prominent industry foodservice consultants and leading research firms. Thus, the winners represent the best of the industry as chosen by their peers and industry experts.

The CSNews How To Do World-Class Foodservice Crew consists of:

  • David Bishop, Balvor LLC
  • Ed Burcher, Burcher Consulting
  • Joe Chiovera, XS Foodservice & Marketing
  • Dr. Jack W. Cushman, Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes Inc.
  • Dean Dirks, b2b Solutions
  • Eric Giandelone, Mintel Foodservice
  • Burke Hodge, The Coffee Consultants
  • Kane Kulas, CSM Bakery Products
  • Michael Lawshe, Paragon Solutions Inc.
  • Larry Miller, Miller Management & Consulting Services
  • Maurice Minno, MPM Group
  • Paul Pierce, Pure Plates
  • Tim Powell, Technomic Inc.
  • Chad Prast, formerly of VPS Convenience Store Group
  • Bonnie Riggs, The NPD Group
  • Jennifer Vespole, QuickChek Corp.
  • Jerry Weiner, Rutter’s Farm Stores
  • Kim Westover, Maverik Inc.


Wawa: Gold Medal, Foodservice Innovator of the Year

Wawa, according to one of our How To Crew members, “achieved the all-around food attraction that others would only dream of.” The retailer’s new Florida stores are a perfect example of Wawa’s innovation and positioning in the fast-casual segment of foodservice.

When the retailer leapt almost 1,000 miles south of its traditional markets to open its first store in Florida 14 months ago, it could have done so with its already proven and profitable prototype. But instead of transplanting its Mid-Atlantic model to the South, Wawa developed a fresh design driven by the shopping psychology and behavior of the Florida consumer.

As Wawa President and CEO Chris Gheysens told CSNews, “We only had one chance to make a great first impression, and the new store really had to inform the majority of people who didn’t previously know Wawa that the brand stands for fresh, great quality food and beverages, and convenience.”

Here’s more from our How To Crew: “Wawa continually introduces new items and products that lead the industry. For instance, they introduced a low-calorie egg white/turkey sausage/low-fat cheese breakfast sandwich almost 10 years ago — a decade before Dunkin’ Donuts did the exact same thing this year. Meanwhile this year, Wawa introduced the lowest calorie breakfast sandwich at 240 calories as a regular menu item.”

Also, in Florida, Wawa expanded its coffee program to encompass the entire category. “They have a great presentation, which is not surprising, but also a complete category offering,” noted another How To Crew member.

QuickChek: Silver Medal, Foodservice Innovator of the Year

QuickChek, the Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based c-store chain, was honored in 2012 with a gold medal in the Best Hot Beverages Innovator category. This year, How To Crew members recognized the retailer for demonstrating its ability to innovate across the entire foodservice spectrum and build off an already-large base business year after year.

“QuickChek has excelled by building a foodservice culture within its retail business, which has been challenging for many convenience retailers,” said one How To Crew member.

QuickChek is also credited for being a savvy user of media — in particular, partnering with local radio personalities during the drive time; leveraging billboards to build the brand; consistently using text messages to draw in on-the-go consumers with extreme limited-time offers (LTOs); and successfully executing many creative promotional offers such as “skinvertising” via temporary tattoo stamp with an offer for consumers. (Consumers who visited the store in the early morning got their hand stamped for a free sub later in the day.) The retailer also uses social media and email to build customer relationships as well as any other retailer.

Rutter’s: Gold Medal, Best Prepared Foods Innovator

Rutter’s, last year’s Foodservice Innovator of the Year, won the gold medal for Best Prepared Foods Innovator this year. The York, Pa.-based chain promoted its 2012 success with new uniform shirts. On the back of the black shirts, the CSNews Foodservice Innovators Awards gold medal is emblazoned with bright yellow text boasting the chain’s accomplishment.

This year, Rutter’s, which recently opened its 58th store, has done nothing to tarnish its gold medal image. How To Crew members who visited Rutter’s stores this year were truly impressed with the variety of food items on the menu, as well as the quality.

Rutter’s continued its pattern of innovation, introducing a new value menu in May (all items priced from 99 cents to $1.99), a new pastrami burger melt and five new mini tacos. Other unique items at Rutter’s stores include rotisserie chicken, a hot dog Reuben, a cheese fry wrap and Red Bull smoothies.

“They are focusing on the touchscreen technology to drive culinary innovation,” one How To Crew member commented. “They are starting to hit their stride now that their customer base has embraced the technology.”

Sheetz: Silver Medal, Best Prepared Foods Innovator

Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz is a perennial honoree for its foodservice excellence. Sheetz’ MTO (made-to-order) sandwiches, which are prepared with customized menu offerings through touchscreen ordering, have blurred the lines between c-stores and quick-service restaurants for years. The retailer is continuing its rapid expansion into West Virginia and North Carolina this year and was recently named one of the “Best Places to Work” in the latter state.

Speaking at the National Restaurant Association Show earlier this year, new CEO Joe Sheetz described the retailer’s evolution into a foodservice-focused chain that considers itself a “convenience restaurant” chain. “Everything we do is through restaurant glasses,” he said.

According to the CSNews How To Crew, constant reinvention and continued improvement are hallmarks of Sheetz Inc.’s more than 440 stores. “They’ve also found ways over the years to attract and retain high-quality people,” one judge remarked.

QuikTrip: Gold Medal, Best Hot Beverages Innovator

QuikTrip (QT), winner of the gold medal last year in the Best Cold & Frozen Beverages Innovator category, impressed judges this year with its hot beverages program. The 650-store, Tulsa, Okla.-based c-store chain was hailed for ushering in the “wave of the future” with its full-service, barista hot beverage program. “They are trying smoothies and espresso-based items, too, while combining the full-service model with traditional self-service,” said one judge.

Earlier this year, QT was voted the most popular convenience store chain in the country in a study by Market Force Information. More than 7,600 consumers participated in the study, in which QT emerged as the clear leader in the friendliness and great service categories. The retailer also ranked first for cleanliness, amenities and atmosphere — all key building blocks for any company that wants to have a successful hot beverages program.

Like Sheetz, QT is also famous for being a nice place to work, which contributes to the stores’ friendly ambience. QuikTrip has landed on Fortune magazine’s “Best 100 Companies to Work For” list 11 times in the 16 years it’s been published.

Speedway: Silver Medal, Best Hot Beverages Innovator

The winner of the silver medal for Best Hot Beverages Innovator this year is Speedway. The retail division of Marathon Petroleum Corp. operates roughly 1,500 stores in nine states.

In the past year, Speedway has been revving up its growth pace. Last year, it recorded its 15th consecutive year of same-store merchandise sales increases. It also acquired 10 stores in Ohio and Kentucky from Road Ranger and earlier this year, it completed the acquisition of three stores in Indiana and four stores in the Pittsburgh market. Speedway also had one of the highest customer loyalty ratings in the Market Force consumer survey.

In hot beverages, it has taken the leap from self-service to a true made-to-order program with its newest store concepts in Ohio and Michigan. Early indications are that the retailer is doing a good job with this hybrid of full- and self-service coffee, smoothies and espresso-based drinks.

RaceTrac Petroleum: Gold Medal, Best Cold & Frozen Beverages Innovator

Atlanta-based RaceTrac Petroleum is the gold medal winner in the Best Cold & Frozen Beverages Innovator category in this year’s Foodservice Innovators Awards.

Our How To Crew expressed admiration for RaceTrac’s RT6K store prototype. “Their new stores have a great assortment and mix of products, from freshly brewed tea to frozen carbonated and frozen uncarbonated beverages,” said one How To Crew member. “Innovation is evident in these new 6,000-square-foot stores,” said another. “They are built for volume and do it well.”

The 680-store chain was also credited for its focus on product quality and execution. RaceTrac has pushed beyond copying its competition and developed many unique offers, such as its self-service frozen yogurt bar called Swirl World. “RaceTrac’s frozen yogurt and topping bar is a unique offer with lots of options and high quality,” a How To Crew member said.

Cumberland Farms: Silver Medal, Best Cold & Frozen Beverages Innovator

With more than 880 stores, Cumberland Farms is one of the top 20 c-store retailers in store count. The improvements the Framingham, Mass.-based company has made in its foodservice program are sometimes overlooked, but not by the CSNews How To Crew, which bestowed a silver medal on Cumby for its cold and frozen beverages presentation.

In the area of innovation, judges noted the chain’s free iced coffee tour, which utilizes a coffee truck to introduce consumers off-site to the in-store offer with a free cup of iced coffee.

Tedeschi Food Shops: Gold Medal, Best New Foodservice Program

Another Northeast-based convenience store retailer took home the gold medal for the Best New Foodservice Program of the year. In March, Tedeschi Food Shops introduced a new menu of healthier options, all containing 400 calories or less.

“Our healthy food initiatives started several years ago,” explained Joe Hamza, Tedeschi’s vice president of sales and marketing. “It started because we saw that lifestyles were changing and people were getting healthier and more fit. So, we wanted to make sure we had the right products for our customers.”

The almost 200-store, Rockland, Mass.-based chain’s new “400 calories or less” menu consists of about 25 meals and snacks ranging from 50 to 400 calories. “They have a very nice selection of heathier options and great packaging,” said one How To Crew judge.

Notably, the new healthier options are not cannibalizing sales of traditional menu items, while attracting new consumers, particularly women and younger people to Tedeschi’s stores.

With American consumers seeking to eat healthier, Tedeschi is definitely on the leading edge among convenience store chains in meeting this trend head on.

Nice N Easy: Silver Medal, Best New Foodservice Program

Nice N Easy, the 90-store, Canastota, N.Y.-based chain, does so many things right in foodservice, it was hard to pick just one, said one How To Crew member. This year, Nice N Easy’s new handheld pot pie was recognized with a silver medal for Best New Foodservice Program.

Dr. Jack Cushman, Nice N Easy’s director of foodservice, described the new item as an empanada with a regional twist. “We merged the convenience of an empanada with the ingredients of comfort food,” he said. Three varieties of the new pot pie are available: macaroni and cheese with ham, pot roast, and chicken. It’s been so successful that Nice N Easy recently extended the pot pie platform to breakfast items with a fruit filling.

“It’s unique and really is a home run,” Cushman added.

Maverik: Gold Medal, Best Foodservice Limited-Time Offer/Promotion

North Salt Lake City-based Maverik won this year’s gold medal for Best Foodservice Limited-Time Offer/Promotion with a clever pairing of its top-selling signature foodservice item, the BonFire Breakfast Burrito, with a Monster Energy drink. This “ultimate Power Breakfast combo” for just $3.99 leveraged the strength of each of these items into a non-traditional combo that cannot be duplicated at any quick-service restaurant.

“This combo satisfied a customer need to start the day off right by eating the most important meal of the day, along with the energy they need for whatever ‘adventure’ comes their way,” noted How To Crew member Maurice Minno. “Adventure’s First Stop” is Maverik’s unique tagline.

This combo was a clear favorite among Maverik’s No. 1 core customer segment, “Bubba.” Customers raved about the deal with their mouths and their wallets. According to Minno, the combo propelled sales of Monster Energy drinks to nearly $1 million in one month, a 65-percent increase compared with the previous year. Maverik also sold a record number of burritos, an item with more than a 70-percent gross profit margin — setting another record in foodservice sales for the innovative, customer-centric convenience retailer.

Rutter’s: Silver Medal, Best Foodservice Limited-Time Offer/Promotion

As mentioned earlier, Rutter’s picked up a second win in this year’s Foodservice Innovators Awards with a silver medal for its unique walking taco. The taco first walked onto Rutter’s foodservice menu in March 2012, after the idea originated at local high school sporting events in Pennsylvania.

Eliminating the mess associated with traditional taco shells, the walking taco is made fresh, served inside a 1-ounce bag of Doritos-brand tortilla chips and eaten with a fork. Customers can choose from taco meat, lettuce, shredded cheese, salsa, hot sauce, onions, black olives, diced tomato and green peppers as toppings. They can also add sour cream, extra taco meat and extra cheese for an additional cost.

The item was so successful that this year Rutter’s expanded it to include Fritos-brand corn chips as the base and offered the option of adding chili con carne in addition to traditional taco meat.

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