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Sandwich Scenarios

The quintessential "dashboard dining" fare is served up through a variety of c-store programs

Eating a meal between two slices of bread or encased in a wrap makes perfect sense for travelers and customers increasingly on the go, which explains why convenience stores report an even stronger, often fresher, focus on their foodservice sandwich programs.

But there is no one-size-fits-all solution — not across the channel, across a particular chain and not even within a store. C-store retailers report that a variety of options are working well for them. Some offer a made-to-order sandwich program of their own name or a branded offering, such as Quiznos or Subway; some c-stores set up their own proprietary grab-and-go sandwich program made in-house or through a commissary; and still others offer a grab-and-go sandwich program that's supplied by a wholesaler or vendor. Some even run two of these options within the same location.

Here is a look at how some c-store operators are serving up sandwiches, as revealed on a case-study basis by the retailers:


The overview: Out of the chain's 550 locations, 170 are equipped with Subway. The sandwich-shop-within-a-store has its own defined space accessed through the store, but many also have their own additional outside entrance. On average, Subway sales run about 18 percent of overall inside sales, according to Gary Price, Pilot Flying J's vice president of foodservice, "keeping in mind our volumes are much higher than a traditional c-store, with [our] full complement of hard goods merchandise — electronics, TVs and anything the professional driver needs to live on the road."

Stores average about 12,000 square feet, with Subway space taking up approximately 1,000 square feet. "So in a 12,000-square-foot-building, we can generate 18 percent of our volume in 1,000 square feet of space, meaning sales per square foot [with Subway] is very healthy," Price said.

The benefits: Subway is a consistent business model from an operational/execution perspective, Price told Convenience Store News. "It has a broad menu offering with a lot of fresh, healthy alternatives and you're part of the largest [quick-service] restaurant (QSR) system in the world. There is very good support from Subway — operationally, marketing, technology. It's a really good fit and it doesn't take a large footprint."

The challenges: Finding great people who can execute a concept consistently, day in and day out, is always a challenge, according to Price. "We have the complexity of operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, adding a challenge most free-standing Subway operations don't have to deal with," he explained.

The other sandwich solution: In about 200 of its stores, Pilot Flying J has a fresh deli offering, Crossroads Deli, which includes prepared-on-site sandwiches prepackaged in clamshells with a 24-hour shelf-life. They are not freshly made in front of the customer.

The tradeoff: "The great thing about Subway is customers get to customize every sandwich, requesting more mayo, less peppers, etc.," stated Price. But there is a tradeoff. The proprietary deli sandwiches are less expensive for the customer because "we don't have to pay a royalty on them," as Price puts it. "There's more work and more control when you go with proprietary sandwiches; there's less work and less control when you go with a brand like Subway."

The evolvement: Sandwiches and sandwich programs will continue to evolve at Pilot Flying J in order to serve customers with the highest quality and best choices available, according to Price.


The overview: Owned by EZ Energy USA of Seven Hills, Ohio, Easytrip Stores launched a proprietary Easytrip Eats sandwich program late last year. Part one, currently available in four stores, is a fresh, made-to-order concept that's on par with the Subway offering. Part two, currently available in 36 locations, is a private-label packaged sandwich value line, designed to be a grab-and-go offering.

"Our goal was to be able to service two sandwich customers," explained Frank White, director of marketing for EZ Energy USA. "The first is a person who wants freshly made sandwiches with all the toppings. It takes a little more time out of their day to get that; it's a larger product and they'll probably pay a little more for it, but at the end of the day it creates a whole restaurant or QSR experience."

The second is an extension of that. "It's a sandwich option for the person who doesn't want to wait in line or when the restaurant is closed," he said. So ultimately, the customer has two proprietary choices of good value when it comes to sandwiches at Easytrip Stores.

The Subway rival: In the freshly made portion of Easytrip Eats, "Subway is the standard we want to live up to. The customer definitely sees Subway as the leader in that and it partners with quite a few c-store chains," White said. Thus, Easytrip Eats made sure it was very price competitive, even beating Subway's famous "$5 Footlong" offering.

"Our 12-inch fully dressed sub is $3.99," White revealed. "We decided that if we were going to compete with Subway, we were going to beat Subway."

While the sandwiches are made just like those of Subway, they are "standardized offerings — we don't have any signature sandwiches," he noted. And the chain offers "similar toppings, not all [that Subway does]." By the end of the year, EZ Energy plans to add six more of the Easytrip Eats concept, bringing the total count up to 10.

The packaged value proposition: The Easytrip Eats packaged sandwich line is available in a variety of SKUs: three breakfast sandwiches at 99 cents, five wedge sandwiches priced between $1.59 and $1.79, plus two subs and three hot lunch sandwiches at $1.99 each. They are merchandised in a cold grab-and-go case and a sandwich of the month is advertised through social media and store signage.

The foodservice numbers: Thanks to programs and offerings like Easytrip Eats, foodservice sales at EZ Energy's Easytrip Stores experienced double-digit increases for the tail-end of 2011 and so far for 2012, according to White.

The Fast Fixin' Sandwich Bar: Right at press time, EZ Energy rolled out its latest sandwich program venture — AdvancePierre Foods' Fast Fixin' Sandwich Bar program in five test locations, with at least 20 total locations to be installed this year.

The concept allows consumers to purchase a fresh hot sandwich and make it their way providing all the toppings, with a product shelf life of four hours. The company expects it will add incremental food sales and give consumers one more reason to have Easytrip be the one stop for all their on-the-go food needs.

The program currently offers a variety of protein options, including Angus beef, breaded chicken patties and barbeque pork rib patties. AdvancePierre's bakery-fresh buns are available individually wrapped for use with the Fast Fixin' Sandwich Bar. Additional products are in the works.


The overview: Fresh food, in general, is one of this wholesaler's "most highly focused initiatives," and fresh sandwiches are, by far, the largest growth area in fresh foods over the last two years, according to Robert Hoefs, marketing director of fresh foods for Core-Mark International Inc. With that in mind, Core-Mark developed its Fresh Food Fast cooler program that is offered for a variety of open-air coolers and subsidized by cooler vendors to make it more affordable for c-store retailers. Colvin Oil, with 20 stores in Grants Pass, Ore., is one retailer utilizing the program.

Last year, Core-Mark introduced a walk-around, open-air cooler with a big, flat, low profile and a couple of shelves, as opposed to an upright open air cooler. "The whole thing is merchandisable all the way around and retailers are seeing four to five times the sales as our regular coolers," stated Hoefs.

While the coolers average around $15,000 in cost to Core-Mark, the wholesaler is charging nothing to retailers that have "really bought into the fresh food program," he said.

The benefits: Why would c-store retailers buy fresh sandwiches from Core-Mark vs. a DSD supplier? "We have the whole food safety portion of it buttoned up," maintained Hoefs. He said food safety specs have been established in every one of its kitchen commissaries. "If they tell us a sandwich is safe to eat for seven days, we send it to a lab and it has to be safe three days after that," he said. "We build confidence that way."

The limited-time offers: While turkey sandwiches are typically the No. 1 item in most markets, along with ham and cheese as another core favorite, Core-Mark stays in line with other sandwich programs to "refresh it and continually add new things to the mix," according to Hoefs. It has been experimenting with limited-time offers, introducing new items like pretzel bread that, if successful, could become a core item. Pita sandwiches are gaining in popularity and wraps are "really big" currently, added Hoefs.

Seasonally speaking, Core-Mark also pays attention to what the grocery channel is doing, such as featuring citrus in the fall and berries in the spring. "So we try to incorporate seasonality in sandwiches to correspond with that. It's just Category Management 101," he explained. "You get very stagnant in this business if you're not changing it up and doing something new."


The details: Out of 75 stores, Belleville, Ill.-based MotoMart utilizes Landshire's sandwich manufacturing expertise in 63 locations — everywhere but its West Coast stores, according to Scott Kaiser, foodservice director for MotoMart.

Kaiser told CSNews that he has seen "tremendous growth" with the Landshire partnership, adding that hot grab-and-go breakfast sandwiches are up between 6 and 7 percent lately. MotoMart offers the Landshire breakfast program across all dayparts.

The benefits: "For a company of our size, we don't have 300 to 400 stores to go with a commissary," said Kaiser. "They fit our needs and allow us to compete with the big guys on fresh product. In terms of grab-and-go sandwiches, they are our commissary."

The answer to fresh: Landshire's answer to fresh grab-and-go sandwiches was the introduction of its First Street Café line.

Launched in June, the sandwich brand was the company's solution to c-stores that wanted a premium grab-and-go sandwich program. It features artisan breads, whole muscle meats and natural cheeses.

"Initially, our customers were concerned that a frozen slack-out product would not meet the consumer expectations for a fresh product," stated DeNea Hombs, vice president of sales and marketing for Landshire. "However, the performance of the product has exceeded sales expectations, as well as demonstrated reduced stale percentages as compared to 'fresh' or 'in store' programs. It is proving to be an excellent alternative to products that only offer two to three days shelf life."

First Street Café offers a premium, hard-wrapped product with a seven-day shelf life.

According to Kaiser, "we were one of the first to have the line. We went to them and said we wanted a higher-end line to compete with QuikTrip and they were very open. They were also seeing the same trend."

MotoMart cautiously put the new line in a few test stores at first; now it's in 10 stores.

The challenge: "I see the c-store foodservice category lagging about a year behind QSR," Kaiser said. "If the QSR channel comes out with a spicy pork sandwich, for instance, that trends down to a c-store about 12 months later."

But, he added, if a c-store partners with an operation such as Landshire that works with the retailer and keeps up with trends, the effort isn't lost on customers. "If they're there for coffee and they trust you, they're going to eat when they see fresh and innovative."

For comments, please contact Renée M. Convino, Contributing Editor, at [email protected].

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