LA CROSSE, Wis. — Kwik Trip Inc., the La Crosse-based chain of more than 650 convenience stores in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, was named the 2019 Foodservice Innovator of the Year in Convenience Store News' eighth-annual Foodservice Innovators Awards program.
Kwik Trip, previously named Foodservice Innovator of the Year in 2015, was described by an expert on CSNews' Foodservice Advisory Council as "one of the industry leaders in foodservice and has an outstanding leadership team." Earlier this year, Paul Servais, Kwik Trip's foodservice director, was honored with the Convenience Foodservice Leader of the Year award at CSNews' Convenience Foodservice Exchange event in Dallas.
CSNews Editorial Director Don Longo visited one of Kwik Trip's newest stores in Prairie du Sac, Wis., to present the Foodservice Innovator of the Year award to Servais, in front of store co-workers, district and regional supervisors, and several headquarters executives including co-founder and CEO Don Zietlow and leadership development specialist Carl Rick.
"Innovators like Kwik Trip are not just great operators themselves, they are raising the perception of foodservice for the entire c-store industry," said Longo, who added that such success would not be possible without Kwik Trip's 24,000 employees, or co-workers, and a finely-tuned, vertically integrated distribution system that gets fresh food from the central commissary to the stores every day. "Innovation without superior execution doesn't mean a thing," he said.
Among the many accomplishments Kwik Trip is being recognized for this year:
- Smoothie program. Kwik Trip was the key developer of the Fresh Blends unit — an all-inclusive, self-service customer experience that makes smoothies, cold brew beverages, shakes and frappes at the touch of a screen. Three years in development, Kwik Trip worked with Beverage Innovations Inc., which creates the drink mixes, and Wellbilt, which built the machines, to bring the Fresh Blends machine to market. Due to its immediate success, all new Kwik Trip stores are being outfitted with two Fresh Blends machines. "This is outstanding technology that they rolled out with great success and is now available to the general market," said one of the Foodservice Advisory Council members. "It's forward-thinking and very engaging."
- Take home meals. The retailer's new Kitchen Cravings Take Home Meals cold case is located front-and-center as customers enter the store. The selection includes pre-packaged pizzas and 10 different meals for customers to take home and eat. Offerings include Buffalo Wings, Chicken Alfredo, Turkey, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, and Meatloaf, all sold for about $5 each. The meals are made at a new test kitchen built at the chain's central commissary and delivered overnight to stores for the next day. The company is in the process of expanding its central commissary as it expands the take home meals program.
- Fried chicken introduction. In one of the most significant investments the company has ever made in its stores, Kwik Trip introduced fresh fried chicken to its store in West Salem, Wis., on Feb. 1, 2019. Today, there are 187 stores that are frying hand-breaded chicken at the store. Among the equipment added to both new stores and retrofits were two deep fryers, a sifting table, a commercial dishwasher, and a ventilating hood with fire suppression system.
- Teaming up with Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) to provide healthy food options to its customers. Kwik Trip was the first convenience retailer to sign a commitment with PHA in 2014. This year, the retailer signed its third three-year deal with PHA, bringing PHA's fruit and vegetable initiative to all its Wisconsin stores to promote consumption of fresh, frozen, canned and dried fruits and vegetables.
- Home delivery. Kwik Trip has also started dabbling with delivery, partnering with the delivery service, Eat Street, last spring in Wisconsin stores. Most of the delivery orders are for food, Servais reported.
Foodservice accounts for 30 percent of inside sales for Kwik Trip, according to Servais. That's significantly higher than the industry average of 16.5 percent of sales, according to the CSNews 2019 Industry Report.
"Forty percent of our gross profit dollars are from food," added Servais, "and these numbers will continue to grow."