NASHVILLE, Tenn. — At Texas Born (TXB) convenience stores, directing customers' attention to the brand's unique, fresh-made menu items begins before they ever set foot inside. From the fuel pumps to the building itself, everything serves a purpose.
"We start the messaging outside. You start seeing food at the pump," said Kevin Smartt, CEO of Spicewood, Texas-based TXB, pointing to the food-centric digital and physical signage that drivers see as they gas up. "You see the outdoor dining facility. When you walk in, you get a very fresh-feeling store. You see a lot of different connotations of food."
This is done in service of making food a central traffic driver, Smartt explained during his presentation, "Distinguishing Your Store Through Constant Menu Innovation," at the 2023 Convenience Store News Convenience Foodservice Exchange (CFX) event, held in Nashville.
"We focus pretty much 100 percent on the food," he said.
This food-focused mindset extends to the packaging, which combines strong marketing in the form of bold declarations of TXB's identity with functionality. For example, chicken tenders can be served in vertical boxes that fit in a cupholder and have perforation to allow airflow and prevent sogginess.
On the menu innovation front, TXB launches a new limited-time offer (LTO) every quarter, which the team tries to plan a year in advance. LTOs generate consumer interest in trying something new, but they don't have to add to ingredient costs.
"We try to limit what we bring in. We want to use pretty much the same ingredients we have," Smartt said.
He pointed to TXB's pizza'dilla as "a big winner for us" that only required additional sourcing of pepperoni and sausage, with all the other ingredients available on the existing menu. Other LTOs, like TXB's cubano quesadilla and pork 'n mac sandwich, also have done well using minimal to no new ingredients.
The goal is for the team to constantly think about how to create opportunities for customers to shop and eat at TXB multiple times per week.
"That's our goal. We've got a lot of people coming to us two or three times per week, but we want them to eat with us two or three times a week," Smartt said. "So how do you keep your menu from being fatigued? This is one way that we do it."
Other ways to innovate and differentiate include thinking local and launching occasion-based menu items. After Austin, Texas-based Yellowbird Sauce reached out to TXB, the brands collaborated on items like TXB's fish taco during the Lenten season.
"I challenge you to think about who's in your area, what products are sold, what partnerships could you create," Smartt said.
Value is also a key differentiator as consumers try to get more bang for their buck. Smartt noted that it is still very possible to include value options on the menu that are creative and high-quality. Instead of a full chicken sandwich, retailers might offer slider sandwiches at a lower price point, such as TXB's buffalo, BBQ and boom-boom pork sliders.
"We're trying to take the same products and just do it in a different way," the CEO said.
Finally, while technology may not be menu innovation, it is innovation that is important to foodservice. TXB customers can use the retailer's mobile app to order food, use loyalty points to receive special rewards or donate to charity, and take part in TXB's subscription beverage program.
"You can order our food from our app, you can have it delivered and you can pick it up in the store. You can also order other convenience store items," Smartt said. "And when you get in our app, we're offering you other coupons and discounts on food in our app. We want to drive as much foot traffic or eyeball traffic to our app as possible because that's how we learn about our customer."
The beverage subscription program, in particular, is yielding long-term rewards despite offering members unlimited drinks.
"I can tell you from the majority of the data that we're seeing, they're all buying something in their basket when they're getting a free drink," Smartt said. "Customer acquisition is how we look at it as an owner. So, I encourage you to think about being innovative, creative and [to] think about getting foot traffic in the store to go fast."
The eighth-annual CFX event, held May 4-5, was an exclusive networking and experience-focused conference that gave attendees actionable knowledge and research to strengthen their foodservice business. Multiple executives from leading food-focused convenience store chains spoke at the event.
Sponsors of the 2023 Convenience Foodservice Exchange included gold sponsors Autofry/MTI Inc., BOHA! by TransAct Technologies Inc., Chain Link Services, Everest Ice and Water Systems, Finlays Americas, Hunt Brothers Pizza LLC, Southern Visions LLP, The J.M. Smucker Co., and Wasserstrom; silver sponsors Supplyit By Jera Concepts and Tyson Foods; and innovation zone sponsors 33 Degrees Convenience Connect, Kitchen Technology Innovations Integrated Control and Smoodi.