These Chains Have It Made

10/3/2015

That foodservice is now one of the most important categories for convenience stores wanting to become a destination consumers consciously seek out isn’t big news. Across the United States, big chains, small chains and single stores are all exploring the best way to develop their programs, and more are finding success by offering made-to-order items.

A lineup of customizable products isn’t for every c-store, as a made-to-order program requires considerable investment in recipe development, inventory and training. But as made-to-order becomes more popular with c-store customers, chains with established foodservice programs are discovering just how valuable it can be. Here, we take a look at some of the chains learning from experience and putting their own unique made-to-order mark on the industry.

QUIKTRIP

Earlier this year, Tulsa, Okla.-based QuikTrip Corp. completed a chainwide rollout of its QT Kitchens program. Nearly all existing stores were retrofitted to include the concept’s made-to-order counters, which offer pizza, breakfast sandwiches, specialty beverages and more.

“I’ve really got to give props to our store development team,” company spokesman Mike Thornbrugh told Convenience Store News. “To get all that work done in about a year’s period of time and without interrupting customer flow is phenomenal.”

QT Kitchens is in place at all QuikTrip Gen 3 stores and will be included in all new builds. Nearly all of its older format stores have been retrofitted to include the counters as well, giving the chain true foodservice consistency across its footprint for the first time.

The program also presents a prime opportunity to expand the made-to-order menu and offer a larger number of product varieties, although Thornbrugh noted that QuikTrip is moving cautiously as it seeks to master one element at a time.

“If [a new product] looks like it has a chance to be successful, we test it in stores and spread it around a little because we have to learn how to do it the right way,” he said, explaining that store associates must be able to produce menu additions in a timely manner so they taste good and are consistent. “We try to get that down before we roll it out everywhere.”

The chain’s latest success is its breakfast pizza, launched in April to take advantage of both the popularity of pizza and the heavy traffic of the breakfast daypart into lunch.

“We recognize the morning crowd is huge, and we recognize in today’s world when the competition lines are so blurred, you have to keep adding things or people will lose interest in it,” Thornbrugh said.

Rolling out QT Kitchens hasn’t been without its challenges. For a company that’s typically offered self-service food in the past, adding made-to-order is a major business change. Properly training employees, whether they’re brand-new or existing workers accustomed to the old way of doing things, has been the greatest challenge, Thornbrugh said. QuikTrip has developed and refined its training methods over time. “We’ve spent a lot of time and effort training our people on how to do it right over and over and over again.”

So far, QuikTrip’s investment in made-to-order is paying off in customer interest.

“We were fortunate that we’ve been operating a long time. We’ve got a loyal fan base and they give us the benefit of the doubt because they trust us,” Thornbrugh said. “At the same time, some of the newer markets may have not seen what we’re doing, so they’ve got the curiosity factor and this gives us the advantage.”

CORNER STORE

Since acquiring Canastota, N.Y.-based Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes in 2014, San Antonio-based CST Brands Inc. has begun “cross-pollinating” products between its two U.S. c-store chains. These efforts have gone well enough that the company is now working to open five new-to-industry prototype stores in Texas before the end of the year in order to bring the best parts of Nice N Easy’s Easy Street Eatery foodservice concept to Corner Store.

These new prototype Corner Stores will not exactly replicate the well-established Easy Street Eatery made-to-order program, but it is likely menu items will be the same, combining CST’s breakfast daypart success with the lunch and dinner achievements of Nice N Easy.

Made-to-order food is most likely to do well moving into the lunch hour, when customers expect personal service and the ability to customize, according to CST.

“I always knew this business model would take off coast to coast,” Director of Foodservice Jack Cushman told CSNews this summer. “CST is young, smart, aggressive enough and has the capital to invest. It’s exciting for me. I’ve been waiting for this kind of opportunity. I know we can enhance the overall business model at CST.”

To make the most of the two chains’ strengths, CST also has already adopted several of Corner Store’s most popular offerings at Nice N Easy stores. Corner Store’s Texas pecan coffee and signature Whoopie Pies, for instance, are now available in New York State.

RICKER’S

Most convenience stores operate in set locations and wait for the customers to come to them, but Ricker Oil Co. took a different approach when it launched its ¡AhhBurritos! concept as a food truck in 2013. The vehicle hit the road in central Indiana, serving Ricker’s customizable menu items including burritos, quesadillas and nachos.

“We saw the relevance of mobile food for on-the-go customers in our communities, but we didn’t want it to be like fast food,” said Ricker’s President and CEO Quinn Ricker. “We developed a fresh, gourmet menu that is truly a great value.”

Today, the food truck still operates and can be tracked via social media, but the made-to-order ¡AhhBurritos! program has since transitioned to an in-store program as well. In March, the company opened a new flagship store in Carmel, Ind. Instead of getting their food and hitting the road, customers can order on touchscreens and sit down to eat.

“We are proud to offer such a fresh, high-quality and affordable product that is also unique to the Ricker’s brand,” Ricker told CSNews. “We prepare all food items fresh, in-store and made to order. Kiosks are in place to allow each order to be customized to the individual’s liking.”

The flagship store will serve as the model for Ricker’s next generation of c-stores.

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