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The Top Five Takeaways From Convenience Store News' 2018 Convenience Foodservice Exchange

Speakers participated in interactive chats with the emcee and the audience.
Speakers participated in interactive chats with the emcee and the audience.

DALLAS — The theme for the 2018 Convenience Foodservice Exchange, hosted by Convenience Store News, was "Striving for Foodservice Excellence" and the agenda was designed to appeal to any convenience store retailer, regardless of size, that is looking to up their game in the critically important foodservice category.

More than 35 retailers, representing large chains like Circle K, regional powerhouses like Wawa, RaceTrac and Maverik, and food-forward smaller chains like Rutter’s and Parker’s, were treated to a diverse program of interactive information-sharing and networking.

In a departure from traditional, lengthy data-heavy presentations, the expert speakers at the Convenience Foodservice Exchange gave shorter, pithier talks, followed by an interactive chat with the emcee and the audience.

This year's program also featured one-on-one business development meetings moderated by John Wilkinson of Thoughtwav Inc. These structured meetings allowed attendees to talk to their peers one-on-one about issues and opportunities they both said they care about.

Another highlight was the first "Top C-store Chef" competition. Chefs from leading food-forward convenience store chains competed for the title of Top C-store Chef by creating new, tasty, convenience store-appropriate menu items that were evaluated by three hand-picked expert judges.

Greg Parker was presented the 2018 Foodservice Leader of the Year award at the event.

The Convenience Foodservice Exchange was also the setting for the presentation of the 2018 Convenience Store News Foodservice Leader of the Year award. This years winner was Greg Parker, CEO of Savannah, Ga.-based Parker's, a fast-growing chain of 53 convenience stores where customers can buy fresh, hot, Southern-inspired food, along with fuel and other convenience items.

Here are the top five takeaways from the 2018 Convenience Foodservice Exchange:

1. Foodservice Success Requires Brand Differentiation

Brand differentiation means creating a foodservice offering and environment that separates you from your competition, said Jerry Weiner, a 40-year industry veteran and president of Food Service Consultant.

He advised retailers to become a destination for food by doing things better or differently than the rest of the local market. Offering items that competitors don't is one way of differentiating from your rivals.

2. It's Not About Price, It's About Value

This was mentioned by numerous speakers, but Mark Kuperman, chief operating officer at restaurant consultancy Revenue Management Solutions, hit the nail on the head when he said, "Fresh prepared food offers more pricing flexibility than a candy bar."

A customer may know how much they expect to pay for a Snickers bar, but not a sandwich, Kuperman said in his presentation with King-Casey's Tom Cook on menuboard optimization.

"Let go of the myth that customers remember what they spend on individual products," he said. "Rather, they remember what they spend on a total basket."

3. Demand Is Growing for Plant-Based Foods & Proteins

Again, this theme was echoed by several speakers. Plant-based new product innovations include using "clean meat," cell-based meat, cellular agriculture, and aquaculture.

"Consumers are seeking ways to prevent, control or reverse medical conditions," said Dr. Marcia Schurer, president of Culinary Connections. Consumers want ingredient and nutritional information and foods with health benefits to increase energy and longevity, she said.

Vegetarian, vegan, raw, pescetarian, flexitarian, paleo and ketogenic are among the dietary lifestyles impacting menus today. Medical diets to prevent, control or reverse medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, acid reflux, asthma and many more, are growing in importance.

4. Convenience Is Always Evolving

The convenience store a retail format that has evolved continuously since its inception in 1927 is on the cusp of more dramatic change. New upstarts and innovators like Choice Market in Denver, Los Angeles-based Locali Healthy Convenience and Street Corner Markets' urban superettes are redefining the meaning of convenience.

Leaders of these three retailers participated in a panel discussion on how their companies are using fresh food and unique locations to meet the needs of a new generation of young, urban shoppers.

With both baby boomers and millennials migrating into cities, such urban, fresh-food concepts are sure to pop up in more and more city centers. 

5. Local Is More Than a Fad

Several speakers advised convenience store operators to think local particularly when it comes to sourcing products and ingredients for their "farm-to-fork, flexitarian, label-reading customers."

Ryan Krebs, foodservice director for Rutter's, said the Mid-Atlantic chain believes local is more than a trend. When Rutter's announced it would make it a priority to purchase products manufactured or produced either within a 100-radius of its York, Pa., headquarters or within the state of Pennsylvania, he said, "we assumed we’d get some feedback, but we didn’t realize they’d kick our door in."

Other regional retailers could benefit from taking a closer look at a Buy Local strategy.

The 2018 Convenience Foodservice Exchange was sponsored by gold sponsors Applied Data Corp., Convenience Works by Hussmann and Seda International Packaging Group, and silver sponsor Tesser.

About the Author

Don Longo

Don Longo is Editorial Director Emeritus of Convenience Store News. He joined the brand in 2005. With the highest recognition of any c-store industry media journalist, Don has given presentations to business groups throughout the U.S., Europe and South America, appeared as a guest on Fox Business News and National Public Radio, and is a highly sought source for major consumer and business news.

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