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Roller Grills Staying Put

NEW YORK -- Industry watchers may debate the future of roller grill programs in convenience stores, but when Convenience Store News asked a group of six c-store operators to weigh in on the topic, all but one responded with a positive outlook.

Read on for CSNews' special Q&A with:
-- Rick Cummings, vice president of refined fuels marketing; CHS Inc. (Cenex)
-- Richard Levin, vice president of marketing; Jacksons Food Stores
-- Steve Loehr, vice president of operations support; Kwik Trip Inc.
-- Dave McComas, president and CEO; GPM Investments LLC (Fasmart, Shore Stop)
-- Matthew Paduano, vice president of information; Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes
-- Mike Triantafellou, president and CEO; Handee Marts

Q: Do your stores have roller grills?

Cummings: The majority of our 60 company-operated stores have roller grills, and I would say at least 50 percent of our dealer stores [have them as well].

Levin: Yes, we have roller grills in 170 of our 211 stores.

Loehr: We have two roller grills in almost all of our stores.

McComas: We have our roller grill program in 125 of our stores, which is approximately 60 percent of our locations.

Paduano: Three to four of our stores still have roller grills, but truthfully the sales and margins generated do not justify the investment.

Triantafellou: Yes, we have either self-serve or clerk-serve grills at practically every one of our sites. As a 7-Eleven licensee, it is an integral part of our proprietary offerings.

Q: Do roller grills still have a place in convenience stores?

Cummings: [It] seems to be a good fit for stores that haven't made a commitment to a larger food offering format. [Roller grills] are still appealing to the self-serve, grab-and-go customer looking for something hot.

Levin: There is certainly a place for roller grills in c-stores. I feel roller-grills are still a mainstay of our foodservice program at Jacksons. As a matter of fact, I think we have only scratched the surface of these programs. Some of the leading players in our industry are showing success with big, six-grill layouts. The quality and selection of products available for the grill also continue to improve. There is still nothing we can offer to beat the dashboard-dining ability of roller grill products.

Loehr: As we have added many other choices in fresh foods and hot foods -- pizza, soup, etc. -- our roller grill sales have softened somewhat, but we still feel the roller grill is an important part of our overall food strategy.

McComas: Yes, [the roller grill] is a foundation of c-store foodservice, and customers still expect to find it in our retail trade class.

Paduano: This is what brought most retailers into foodservice, [however] as their programs became more developed and sophisticated, the roller grill business dwindled. Roller grill is way down the list of preferred foods when items like fresh pizza, subs, burgers, panini, salads and wraps are available.

Triantafellou: Absolutely, especially in stores without a make-to-order food program (the majority of stores in our country). Roller grills become even more important in certain geographic areas, such as Western Pennsylvania where we operate, because of the strong demand for hot dogs and the presence of freestanding hot dog QSRs.

Q: What are the must-dos for executing a successful roller grill program?

Cummings: A clean counter and grill; fresh products; good selection; the right amount of product; and a wide assortment of condiments.

Levin: Keep it full; keep it clean; rotate LTOs (limited-time offers); offer condiments other than packets; and do combo pricing with drinks.

Loehr: Over time, we added too many varieties and as a result, had two of this and three of that on the grills, which made it hard for the stores and the customer. We have reduced the number of items offered and spread out the ones we sell. We're also looking at adding more condiment choices so our customers can customize.

McComas: Fresh product and condiments; a clean store, grill, condiment station and restrooms; have a reasonable quantity of product on the grill at any time; have items available to meet the morning and afternoon/evening dayparts; and do promotions to generate consumer attention and maintain store-level focus. We generally feature a monthly roller grill offer as a bundle with coffee or fountain. Last summer, we ran a special two-month promotion on our Jumbo Hot Dog at 99 cents in August and September, and generated an increase of 167 percent in units and 51 percent in sales dollars over the June base.

Paduano: The only way I see of executing a successful roller grill program is to make it the only foodservice item available to your customers. If you have a decent food program, roller grills will suffer. Without researching it, I believe any successful roller grill program out in the trade now is one where there is no other food offerings within the store.

Triantafellou: In no particular order, the more fresh condiments, the better, and not packets; keep it full with items always tagged; keep it fresh, allowing for waste; offer variety by daypart, but always have your standard offering available; have quality bread for hot dogs and sausages; and bundle with chips and fountain for a value offering.
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