Speed & Communication Key to Foodservice Innovation Process

Jessica Williams

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Speed and communication are the two most important lessons convenience store retailers can take away from studying the product innovation processes of the largest, most successful quick-service restaurant chains.

Regional c-store chains, in particular, can take the best parts of having an innovation process, and even accelerate their launches by eliminating the countless committee hearings, bureaucracy and red tape that is endemic to big chains, according to Jessica Williams, founder of Food Forward Thinking LLC, a consultancy that supports the growth of foodservice in convenience stores, restaurants, and grocery chains.

“The only group who should be surprised by a speedy launch are the customers,” said Williams, who will be a featured speaker at Convenience Store News’ 2020 Convenience Foodservice Exchange (CFX), which was recently rescheduled due to an abundance of caution over the coronavirus pandemic.

Originally scheduled for June, the fifth-annual CFX will now be held Nov. 16-18 at The Westin Charlotte.

The conference will feature innovative learning experiences, such as a visit to Johnson & Wales’ culinary school, walking and bus tours of innovative food and retail concepts in Charlotte, interactive discussions, and expert speakers.

Last year’s Convenience Foodservice Exchange, held in Dallas, drew many of the nation's most forward-thinking convenience foodservice retailers, including giants like 7-Eleven and Circle K, and regional powerhouses like Wawa, Kwik Trip and QuickChek.

The theme of this year’s program is “Where Food Trends Meet Reality.” For example, in a post-COVID-19 environment, Williams advises that c-store retailers might want to push pause on some of the healthier, trendy menu items introduced in the past few years, and instead focus on comfort food for pandemic-stressed customers.

“Are there ways you can introduce savory, filling ingredients and menu items? How about adding macaroni to pizza? Consider mashed potato or rice bowls. Make your burritos warm and toasty. Add more cheese and bacon to everything,” she suggested. “Customers are going to want hearty and wholesome foods in these difficult times.”

Consumers also will be looking for greater value. “Lean on your manufacturers for guidance and messaging to deliver a stronger value message through limited-time-offers,” she added.

Prior to founding Food Forward Thinking, Williams led fresh food product development and quality assurance at Thorntons Inc., where she helped establish a best-in-class foodservice platform based on evolving consumer expectations and elevated food quality. She previously learned foundational product development knowledge at Yum! Brands, where she conducted consumer research and developed food and equipment items for Kentucky Fried Chicken for 10 years.

The 2020 CFX agenda will also tackle such key issues as:

  • Why Ready-to-Eat, Grab & Go Foodservice Might Best Fit Your Foodservice Strategy. Kay Segal, president of the Business Accelerator Team, will discuss why “choosing your lane” for foodservice development must be a well-thought-out and strategic decision. In this fast-paced session, Segal will share factors for consideration, and checklists for what is important in creating programs — from ready-to-eat to grab-and-go.
  • How to Create Meal & Snack Opportunities All Day Long, at Every Store. Veteran c-store foodservice retailer Frank White will explore how to keep the warmers, open-air coolers and grills full all day. Lean how diversifying the offers between meal types, snacks and specialty trends can deliver traffic from open to closing time.
  • Food Safety Protocol for Operators, Staff & Vendors. Johnson & Wales University Associate Professor Donald W. Brizes Jr. will discuss the latest techniques and products for ensuring food safety.
  • Foodservice Trends: Expectations vs. Reality. Brizes will also lead an interactive discussion aimed at identifying real food trends that have staying power and are appropriate for the convenience channel.
  • The New Convenience Retailer. Executives from Choice Market, Enmarket, Kwik Trip, QuickChek and High’s will show off and discuss their newest food-forward stores and programs aimed at meeting the needs of an evolving consumer in a post-COVID-19 world.

Another new feature of this year’s conference will be presentation of CSNews’ annual Foodservice Innovators Awards. Previous winners have included such notable food-forward convenience retailers as Kwik Trip, Rutter’s, Wawa, QuickChek and Maverik.

For more information or to request a retailer invitation, contact Editorial Director Don Longo at [email protected]. Travel assistance is available for qualified retailers.

Sponsorships are also available for this exclusive, exciting event. For more information on sponsorships, contact Brand Director Paula Lashinsky at [email protected] or (917) 446-4117.