How Holiday Went Healthy

1/29/2014

The Midwest chain is committed to fresh-food offerings and broadening appeal

When introducing new products to its chain of 492 convenience stores, Holiday Stationstores Inc. tries to focus on four cornerstone elements: quality, value, selection and speed.

“‘Quality’ in our food offering has been a discussion topic for quite some time — two or three years,” said President and Chief Operating Officer Brent Blackey. “Then quickly, we really got into ‘fresh and healthy’ as a term that correlated well with the term, ‘quality.’”

Prior to introducing a new fresh and healthy foodservice lineup less than a year ago, Holiday’s offering had consisted of heat-and-serve products that required no preparation or handling, and appealed primarily to the chain’s core customer base of adult males.

In an effort to create an offering that appeals to more customers, Holiday partnered with Taher Inc., a contract foodservice management company that helped the c-store chain develop new fresh and healthy products and packaging. Blackey also used findings from the NACS/Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council report, Playbook for Success, to build upon this program. The Playbook for Success report can be found at www.ccrrc.org.

“We try to make sure we appeal to those people who are on the go, and even though they’re in a hurry and maybe multitasking at the time they stop in, that there’s a quality offering there,” he said. “That’s particularly true to the discerning female consumer and Millennials these days.”

Minnesota-based Holiday has stores in nine Midwest states and Alaska, and chose a cross-section of 20 locations in the Twin Cities area for an initial instore sampling of the new items. “We did the sampling right away,” Blackey recalled. “We wanted people to really have an opportunity to taste and see. Once they tasted and tried it, we thought they’d be sold on it.”

The retailer also repositioned its shelving and signage to make its fresh foods display appear more vibrant and appealing. Taher’s team of culinary experts suggested the use of such phrases as “Chef Inspired Salads” and “Fresh Seasons Salads” to emphasize the high-quality ingredients. The offering officially launched in the 20 stores on April 1.

Currently, Holiday’s lineup includes a Farmer’s Market Salad; Garden Salad; Chicken, Pasta & Bleu Cheese Salad; and Berry, Walnut & Chicken Salad. The quality of these salads is intended to rival those found in popular mid-sized restaurants such as Applebee’s or Panera Bread, Blackey explained. A Chicken Caesar Salad and Asian Chicken Salad are expected to debut in the first quarter of this year. The salads are priced at $4.99 each.

Additionally, Holiday offers a Turkey, Cherry & Almond Pasta Salad and Italian Pasta Salad, as well as three snack cup varieties: Grape & Cheese; Celery & Peanut Butter; and Apple & Caramel Icing. The pasta salads and snack cups are priced in the $2.69 to $2.89 range.

“We’re at a different price point than some of our other offerings, but it’s certainly an appealing product. We believe there’s a good value illustrated with that price point as well,” Blackey noted.

To gain feedback on the new products, Holiday offered customers a free coffee or soda for completing an online questionnaire. Separately from the survey, customers received coupons for a free bottled water or a $1 discount on the purchase of a salad.

“We really wanted to make sure there was a clear value proposition for trying something new, especially something that may not be as well accepted in a convenience store,” the COO said.

Although customer feedback was positive during the sampling, the lineup launched with limited fanfare and modest sales. Still, Holiday remained committed and eventually saw sales growth as warmer weather approached. Furthermore, the chain learned that “fresh and healthy” was appealing to its core customers as well. “There’s a learning curve for customers as well as for Holiday here, and you have to work hard in an area you don’t hold,” Blackey advised.

Holiday is currently in the process of staging a rollout to approximately 150 Twin Cities-area stores and soon plans a major launch supported by an advertising campaign. The retailer also continues to work with Taher to refine and enhance the offering.

“We want to walk before we start to run,” Blackey concluded. “We want to make sure we build a solid foundation and let the marketing catch up to the product in the first half of 2014.”

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