NATIONAL REPORT — La Crosse, Wis.-based convenience store chain Kwik Trip Inc. is known for its strong grab-and-go program, which has continued to thrive during the pandemic. Foodservice Director Paul Servais says the key to keeping the program compelling is a regular offering of limited-time offers (LTOs) working in tandem with a great core of breakfast and lunch sandwiches.
"We keep sprinkling in LTOs to give our guests different options when they want to 'cheat' on their favorite sandwich once in a while," he said. "LTOs work great for all types of food program. Don’t ever stop believing in them!"
When it comes to price points, c-stores don't have to choose between a premium offering or a low-cost selection. Value-tier grab-and-go offerings, particularly merchandised in a warming case, can serve as a counterpoint that allows retailers to focus their made-to-order (MTO) program on premium offers, while providing a value alternative for those customers who aren't interested in a higher-priced item.
At the same time, programs must not skimp on quality for the sake of a low price.
"Our internal motto has always been quality food at a value price," Servais said. "We will never change that."
As retailers build their grab-and-go programs and set their prices, they must consider the cost of food waste, which is inevitable unless they stock items so cautiously that customers are likely to find empty food cases at the end of the day. After years of experience, Kwik Trip has settled on the target of 8 percent waste or less on an item, which is factored in during the item development process.
"We talk about waste at every meeting and it is predominate on all reports we use," Servais noted. "The food team spends a good deal of their time figuring out how to grow sales and control waste."
The drastic shifts driven by COVID-19 in when and how consumers purchase food means that c-store operators need to analyze traffic patterns and sales data to understand the updated status quo, particularly as the embrace of remote work means that commuter foot traffic may never return to what was once thought of as normal.
The “new normal” also provides an opportunity to reboot how grab-and-go is promoted.
Digital ordering through mobile apps or websites is the biggest time-saver for customizable made-to-order food, but digitally promoting grab-and-go items is also a smart move, especially products that make unplanned but appealing adds-ons.
"Grab-and-go has always been strong for us and continues to be through the pandemic. This being said, we know we need to play in every arena to be successful long-term," Servais said. "Mobile ordering, curbside, MTO, etc., are all on our radar."
With the COVID-19 pandemic upending nearly all aspects of the foodservice category, the time has never been better to optimize grab-and-go and build its own appeal.
"Grab-and-go has often been treated as a secondary offer to made-to-order options, whether it is in positioning of grab-and-go warmers, packaging, maintaining appearance of freshness," said Megan Sandlin, customer planning and development manager at Tyson Foods. "As consumers have become more time compressed in the mornings and between dayparts, grab-and-go is a good way to appeal to consumers looking for quick or a mini-meal."
Pandemic-related safety precautions that prompted c-stores to suspend self-service offerings, and customers' desire to limit their exposure to the general public, puts grab-and-go in a strong competitive position these days. To make the most of this opportunity, c-store operators should use tactics that fit the segment, according to industry experts.
"Grab-and-go suffers from getting lost in the mix — poor merchandising or executional issues, both of which can impede sales," Sandlin said.
To address this, suggested moves include:
Promoting grab-and-go through point-of-purchase merchandising and strategic positioning;
Placing grab-and-go items near easily bundled items such as coffee and dispensed beverages;
Making sure employees can easily monitor product without having to go out of their way to check for out-of-stock situations; and
Placing rolling warmer carts closer to the checkout area for increased visibility to boost impulse purchases.
"Suppliers can also help with recommendations on what offers make [the] most sense to be a grab-and-go offer," Sandlin added.