The Pantry Readies New Food Options

CARY, N.C. -- The Pantry, which operates more than 1,600 convenience stores throughout the Southeast U.S., will introduce new, on-the-go food options chainwide this year.

At his first annual meeting as The Pantry's chairman and CEO, Terry Marks said his management team is "laserlike focused" on improving the food in the company's convenience stores. Marks sat down with the News & Observer newspaper for a question-and-answer session. Here is an edited version of the conversation:

Q: You've been leading The Pantry for about six months now. How's it going?
It's clearly a tough environment. The Southeast has been hit harder than the rest of the country, and you see that in not just our data but industry data. But there's tremendous opportunity, and I'm more excited than I was when I came here.

Q: Can you tell us any more about the on-the-go food pilot program?
We're going to go live in the Charlotte market in the third quarter. [The Pantry's third quarter ends in June.]

Q: Are those the Petro Express stores? You've previously said you will convert all of the Petro stores into Kangaroo stores.
Yes, it's an opportunity to be really efficient with the construction. It's about 60 stores. ... We will begin work in April, and we'll have some number done in May. We'll have the majority of them done by the end of the summer.

Q: What exactly will change?
We're contemporizing our logo and our graphics. We're making changes to the inside of the store to make it brighter and more contemporary. And we want to improve our coffee offering, and that should be evident.

Q: When do you think the program may expand outside of Charlotte?
We're not ready to say yet which market will follow Charlotte. But construction will begin almost sequentially. In fact, construction in the second market will probably overlap [construction in Charlotte] by about three weeks. By the end of the summer, we'll be moving.

Q: We're headed into the summer driving season. Do you anticipate any change in the amount people are driving?
I don't expect any material growth in miles driven. There's nothing that signals to me an increase. ... For us, it doesn't mean that much. There are certain things you can control and certain things you can't. We're really trying to stay focused on our circle of influence and what we can control.

Q: As an aside, have you watched the new TV show "Undercover Boss," and would you consider doing an episode yourself?
Yes, I have seen it, and it's fun to watch. But no, I have no interest in appearing on it. I think that can cut both ways. It's one thing to be with your people. That's good. But doing it on national TV opens some doors.

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