What's Heating Up in Foodservice Today & Tomorrow
LAS VEGAS — Convenience store operators that have successfully built foodservice programs must continue to innovate and keep up with food trends in order to move their businesses forward.
The "Foodservice Trends: Now, New, Next" education session at the 2018 NACS Show explored the ways in which retailers can do this, along with spotlighting current and emerging trends.
Speakers included Steve Turner, director of food programs and offers at RaceTrac Petroleum Inc.; Ted Roccagli, director of preferred vendor programs at Empire Petroleum Partners; and Mark DiDomenico, director of client solutions at Datassential, who served as moderator.
Health and wellness is an aspect of foodservice to which c-stores should pay increasing attention. Results of Datassential's market research shows that health and wellness is in a "3.0 stage," where consumers are interested in functional foods and care about what positive aspects they should have, instead of what negative aspects they should lack. Today, this includes protein, antioxidants and superfoods.
While consumers still love steak and other meat products, they are more interested in consuming vegetarian or vegan products, as well as cutting back on meat products to become "flexitarians."
RaceTrac has begun looking at locally sourced vegetables and free-range chicken as functional food ingredients for its program, according to Turner. The chain also added almond creamer as a standard condiment in its coffee set based on customer requests, and is working on a dairy-free, almond milk-based ice cream option for its Swirl World concept.
While Empire works with a wide variety of branded partners, instead of offering its own proprietary program, the retailer does offer healthier options, such as Burger King's Tendergrill chicken sandwich and Morning Star veggie burger, and Five Star Pies' cauliflower crust profile, which has less sodium.
Keeping track of current and emerging trends is crucial to staying relevant, but introducing new items should be done carefully.
"What do you want to bring into your organization, and how do you want to go about doing that?" DiDomenico asked.
Datassential's mantra for doing so is "safe experimentation," which helps operators dip their toes into some forward trends, while making them accessible.
He cited the banh mi Vietnamese sandwich as a case study. While surveyed consumers gave this product a high uniqueness score, the unbranded purchase intent was low. However, when Atlanta Bread designated it the Saigon Chicken Sandwich, purchase intent rose, as the name was more relatable to consumers.
Turner agreed that giving customers the ability to understand specifically what is being offered is key. When RaceTrac changed the name of its Tropical Paradise Smoothie to the Tropical Mango Smoothie, sales rose dramatically overnight.
Automation and delivery also are on the rise in foodservice.
While autonomous vehicles are in their infancy, they will eventually be on the streets and used for delivery, DiDomenico predicted. In the meantime, land-based drone delivery already exists in some cities, particularly on college campuses, and automated devices are assisting in production, such as a CostCo device that delivers the sauce to uncooked pizza dough. This kind of automation can help fill the labor crunch.
RaceTrac is currently testing delivery service with a third-party partner. Turner encouraged other c-store retailers to make the foray into delivery.
"Don't wait until you're ready," he said. By trying it, retailers can figure out what to do and not to do, but if they don't take any steps, "your market share is guaranteed to be zero."
The 2018 NACS Show is taking place Oct. 7-10 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.