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Marché G. Lalime features Montrealers’ favourites

Maximilien Lalime says location, quality food and personalized customer service certainly help to explain the continued success of his family’s third-generation convenience store and speciality market near downtown Montreal.

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Patrick and Maximilien Lalime.                           Photos: Chantale Lecours

But he credits his family’s devotion to the business and their ability to stay in step with the times for making Marché G. Lalime a local institution for the past 60 years.

“We’ve evolved with the neighbourhood and made changes to meet people’s demands,” says Maximilien, a 32-year-old father of three and grandson of store founder Gilles Lalime. He has worked for his father Daniel Lalime, the current store owner, for more than a decade.

“We listen to our clients and try to offer them the things they want and need,” says Maximilien – Max to family, friends and store regulars.

Fresh food sells

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 12.10.28 PMA case in point is the store’s introduction a year ago of a new meat pie made with shredded beef bourguignon.

The store sells – and is renowned for – a wide selection of homemade food items and prepared meals that members of the Lalime family make fresh on an almost daily basis.

“None of us thought it would do well,” Max says about the shredded beef pie, which was a spur-of-the-moment idea to recoup an overcooked beef bourguignon. “But it’s done great. We sell a ton of them now.”

The new product bolsters the store’s lineup of top-selling dishes like lasagna, tortière (meat pies), ragout, shepherd’s pie, vegetarian meals, and salads.  

Its most popular items, however, are home-style sandwiches made mostly with sliced white bread.  

The runaway bestseller is the “Club-matin,” a toasted, three-decker breakfast sandwich that sells for only $2.99 – the best food bargain in the city according to store customers, says Max.

Its iconic club sandwich has also earned the store local fame, helping to drive the occasional sales of t-shirts and baseball caps emblazoned with the Marché G. Lalime logo.

“People come from all around to get our food,” says Max.  “It always smells good in our store and there is always a good vibe.”


From meat to much more

That’s a big change from the store that his grandfather Gilles, a butcher by trade, opened in 1959 on Boulevard St Laurent, a busy north-south commercial artery that spans the width of the island of Montreal at its centre point.

Located at the junction of three big city boroughs – Outremont, Le Plateau and Rosemont – the original store supplied mostly fresh meat products to the many large working-class families who lived in the area.

After moving the store 30 years ago to its present location a few hundred metres south at the corner of Beaubien Street, the Lalimes added everyday grocery items, plus lottery tickets, wine and beer. They also started making and selling homemade dishes of popular Québécois foods.

 “My grandad and dad realized that people were too busy and no longer had time to make the traditional foods they like,” says Max. “So they decided to try and fill that need.”

 From the get-go, that food production has been a family affair for the Lalimes.  

Daniel’s brother Patrick, for example, comes into the store most mornings at 3 a.m. to make and fill the cooler with 100 sandwiches or more, often with the help of his wife.

 That doesn’t include the side orders of toast for $1 and the dozens of “Club-matins” and other made-to-order sandwiches that start going out the door with overnight and early-bird workers as soon as the store opens at 5 a.m.

Daniel, his sister Ginette and three of Max’s cousins help to make and fill food orders and to staff the store during the day until closing time at 11 p.m.

Daniel’s wife, Marie-Claude, makes vegetarian plates at home that Daniel brings in to the store.

According to Max, those plates, which were added to the store’s food line a few years ago in response to the growing vegan movement, have proven wildly popular. 

“The idea for a vegetarian plate was on our radar, we talked about it and then – boom! – we introduced it,” says Max, who handles the store’s cash and manages everything from traffic flow and home deliveries by bike to lottery tickets and store inventory. “That’s how we’ve always done it for new things and it has worked well.  I don’t see why we’d change that approach.”


Marché G. Lalime’s top tips:

#1. Promote your strengths. “We are always telling our clients how good our food is and what a great deal it is – and they always agree. It’s important to make that kind of a claim – but only if it’s true, and in our case, it is.”

#2. Know your customers. “You need to be interested and attentive to everyone who walks through the door on both a personal and professional level. But that interest has to be genuine.”

#3. Like what you do. “It takes love and acceptance of what you do to keep employee morale high and make your customers feel welcome when they come in the store. This is a business like any other – it functions best with a positive, winning attitude.”

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The key to attracting health-conscious shoppers

snackbuyer-teaserForward-thinking convenience store operators are jumping onto the healthier bandwagon.

In early May, c-store industry giant 7-Eleven Inc. announced that it was introducing nearly 100 new better-for-you items from 31 up-and-coming companies into select stores as part of a test. The selection, placed in 125 Los Angeles-area stores, was curated from 7-Eleven’s first “Next Up” emerging brands showcase, which was held at its Store Support Center in Irving, Texas, last fall.

The better-for-you product assortment includes options for power-snackers, restricted diet-followers and anyone looking for ways to incorporate more functional, better-for-you sips and snacks to keep them fueled while on the go, according to 7-Eleven. The items span keto, paleo, vegan, organic, high-protein, low-glycemic, gluten-free, nutrient-dense, plant-based and cold-pressed.

“When our emerging brands team created this unique product assortment in collaboration with our category managers, the goal was to give customers drinks and snacks that they might not expect to find at a 7-Eleven store,” said 7-Eleven vice-president of new business development Chris Harkness. “Customers are demanding healthier options, and we know LA customers are leading the country in health and wellness trends, always willing to try the newest and most innovative products and services.”

Young consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 are particularly interested in the functional aspect of foods, according to research conducted by youth marketing and millennial research firm Y-Pulse.

These consumers want products that not only satisfy their hunger, but also pack a nutritional punch. They say they enjoy eating superfoods such as dried fruits, nuts and seeds that serve specific functional purposes.

Along with wanting their healthier foods to taste good, younger consumers also want healthy eating to be easy, convenient and work around their on-the-go lifestyles. Specifically, the findings of a recent Y-Pulse study showed that:

  • 81% say they shouldn’t have to try too hard to eat healthy;
  • 76% say they are likely to buy raw fruits and vegetables to eat on the go; and
  • 66% say they don’t mind paying extra for a snack if it’s a healthy option.


Today, “healthy eating” isn’t a set of hard and fast rules, but rather a state of mind — “a continuous, aspirational approach to food with balance, flexibility and practicality,” according to Ellen Rudman, vice president of strategic planning and research for marketing agency Blue Chip Marketing Worldwide.

Fresh, whole and minimally processed are the current cornerstones of better-for-you. However, the definition of what is “healthy” is in constant evolution.

“Having conducted quite a number of focus groups recently on this topic, what we consistently find across geographic markets and demographic groups is that better choices are typically identified with food that is either known to be fresh-made or made-to-order,” said veteran convenience store industry consultant/designer Joe Bona of Bona Design Lab. Consumers equate freshness with quality and being healthier, he added.

While the definition of healthy continues to evolve, the need for convenience and “on the go” is steadfast and, in fact, stronger than ever. “Consumers demand convenience and evaluate every option through a whole new set of food values,” Rudman said.

She wants c-store retailers to consider: Some consumers think it’s inconvenient to be healthy, so how can your convenience stores change that perception?


Store inspections should not be a surprise

checklist-teaserWhen I was growing up, one of my tasks was to keep my room clean and tidy. Every day, I was to pick up my clothes, books and toys and put them in their proper places. I tried. I really tried. Seriously.

Before being allowed out to play on a Saturday morning, my room had to pass inspection.  Inevitably, as I stood by the front door, I would be told that I needed to clean my room. “But Mom, my room is clean,” I’d protest. I would then be led back to my room and items that I hadn’t noticed would be pointed out to me. My being in the room on a day-to-day basis had blinded my objectivity and I didn’t see what others saw.

Sound familiar?

The title of this article is not completely accurate. I think surprise store inspections are important and very helpful. Thanks to the power of the English language, the statement “store inspections should not be a surprise” can have two meanings. What I actually mean is that the result of store inspections should not be a surprise. You must be able to objectively see what your store looks like.

You may not realize it, but your store is inspected multiple times a day. Every customer who walks into your shop is a mystery shopper grading your store on cleanliness, out-of-stocks, pricing and customer service. Unlike the professional mystery-shopping companies, however, your customers won’t leave you with an inspection report. If you fail any of the categories, the customer will vote with their feet — and their wallet — by going somewhere else.

The eternal question is: How do we keep our store at the standards we expect? It is important whether you own one store or 100 stores. The condition of your site is one of the main drivers of customer loyalty and increased sales. Maintaining a high standard is hard to do. Working in a store every day makes it difficult to see the areas that need to be improved.

The best way to have an objective eye is to imagine yourself as a professional inspector. A professional inspector has a checklist that he or she uses to make sure that every item is checked during a visit. Leaving the inspection to memory causes items, and problems, to be overlooked because they are taken for granted.

We use a checklist called Every Store Every Visit (ESEV). A store inspection is performed at least once a week. The store is graded based on the inspection, and the report is reviewed with the team members running the store. We leave the report in a binder at the store and review it after the next inspection to see what items were fixed and what areas still need to be worked on.

“What a great idea,” you are probably thinking, “but how do I get one of these checklists?”

If you are already having mystery-shop inspections because of your fuel or store brand, ask your brand owner for a copy of the inspection checklist and use it as the basis for your own list. Add to it items that you think are important for the success of your business.

If you don’t currently have a mystery-shopping program, don’t despair. You can make your own checklist.

The next time you visit a competitor’s store, pay attention to what you are seeing. What do you look for? What do you notice? Where are your competitor’s flaws? What do you think they can improve on? What are they doing right?

Next, go to your site. Pretend you are someone from another planet trying to figure out what the building is and what goes on inside. Stand outside the property (but not in traffic!). Start at the curb with your eyes and slowly make a mental movie of the parking lot and the front of the store. Are the trash cans empty and clean? Is there litter in the parking lot? Are the weeds growing up through the cracks or over the curb? Are the fuel dispensers clean and working? Are the lights working? Does the air and water work? Do the building, curbs or canopy need painting or repair?

As you enter the building, check to see if the windows are clean or cracked. Inside, slowly look around. Is the floor clean? Do the lights work? Is there any old food smells? Are customers greeted when they walk in the door and thanked when they leave?

As you walk around the store, notice if the shelves are clean. Is everything priced? Are there any empty spaces on the shelves? Is there trash on the floor?

How about the foodservice? Is the foodservice area clean? Are the cups and supplies stocked? Is the food being kept at the right temperature? Is the food being stored properly? Are the coolers and freezer holding temperature correctly?

How’s the staff? Are they in uniform? Are they attentive to the customers (greeting and thanking them)? Are they working the floor when not waiting on customers? Do they have a name tag on?

And, always fun, how does the bathroom look? Is it clean? Does it have soap, towels and toilet paper? Is the hot water working? Does it smell?

Finally, how about the things the customer doesn’t see? Is the store room tidy? Is the cooler clean and tidy? Are the air filters clean? Is the office space in order? Are the proper cash controls being followed at the point-of-sale? Are all permits and licenses posted?

As you are walking around, list everything you notice on a sheet of paper. I suggest you organize the items into categories such as cleanliness, customer service, products, outside appearance, etc. Another option is to list them in the order you would see them when walking around.  In either case, the more detail you add to the list, the better. A good inspection list should take 30 to 45 minutes to complete. This doesn’t include the time it takes to fix the mistakes.

Once you have your checklist completed, add a space at the top for the date and who was on duty. Make a dozen copies of the checklist and put them on a clipboard. Carry the clipboard around and do your first inspection. In addition to feeling very professional (carrying a clipboard will do that to a person), you will be setting the standard for future inspections.

If you are honest with yourself, the first inspection will be terrible. No matter how good we think we are as operators, there is always room for improvement. If you look hard, with an objective view, you will find areas that need improvement. Anytime you find a new issue or problem, add it to your checklist.

The good news is that each inspection will get better if you use them as a training opportunity. Don’t immediately fix the problem yourself, unless there is a safety issue. Walk the store with whomever is on duty with the checklist in hand. Point out the areas that need improvement, as well as the areas that are done to perfection. Fix any issues as a team so that everyone can learn what is expected and what needs to be done.

After the next inspection, compare the newly completed checklist with the previous one. If the same areas continue having problems, it is a strong indicator that more coaching needs to be done. Go over the list again with the team members on staff. Once they understand there is a written standard they are being held to, they will be more motivated to achieve it.

As a training side note, providing people with definitive goals and targets is an excellent way to improve performance. Once someone knows what is expected of them, they find it easier to meet, and exceed, that expectation.

Becoming your own mystery shopper is a quick and inexpensive way to raise your store standards and improve your customer service. It makes your site ready for when the real inspectors — your customers — arrive.

Originally published at Convenience Store News. 

What will the plastics ban mean for foodservice?

recycling-takeout-containersA national ban on the most harmful single-use plastics will very likely force foodservice operators, restaurants and fast-food outlets to find non-plastic materials for takeout and delivery containers but plastic bottles for water and soda are more likely to be improved rather than phased out.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week his government is starting the regulatory work to ban toxic single-use plastics because the garbage infiltrating the world’s waterways is out of hand.

“As parents, we’re at a point where we take our kids to the beach and we have to search out a patch of sand that isn’t littered with straws, Styrofoam or bottles,” he said. “That’s a problem, one that we have to do something about.”

Nothing is going to be banned overnight, with the process to implement a federal ban or limitations on a product under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act usually taking two to four years. The goal is to make decisions on everything on the list by 2021.

“It’s going to take a little bit of time to make sure we get it absolutely right because this is a big step but we know that we can do this by 2021,” Trudeau said.

The process includes an assessment of each product, a proposed regulation, a public comment period, and then the final decision by cabinet.

Trudeau said Canada’s plan will “closely mirror” that of Europe. In March, the European Parliament agreed that by 2021 the European Union will ban almost a dozen single-use products including plastic plates, cutlery, cups, straws, plastic sticks in cotton swabs, balloon sticks and stir sticks, and Styrofoam cups and take-out food containers. Oxo-degradeable plastics including plastic grocery bags, which break down into tiny pieces with exposure to air but never fully disappear, are also to be banned.

Plastic beverage bottles won’t be banned in Europe but the EU will require them to contain a minimum of 30% recycled material by 2030, and a collection rate for recycling or reuse of 90% by 2029. Europe is putting new onus on producers of plastics to ensure they are recycled or reused, including the makers of fishing nets, which are among the most prevalent plastics trapping fish and polluting water bodies.

An official at Environment Canada, speaking anonymously because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, said Canada’s focus will be on banning things that are the most harmful, or the hardest to recycle. Everything will be run through a full scientific assessment as well as a socio-economic-impact review before any proposals for bans or regulations of materials are made, he said. There may be some exceptions to bans if certain uses of products are critical or irreplaceable, he said.

Styrofoam take-out containers are among the products most likely to be banned in Canada. While restaurants favour them because they’re cheap, lightweight and good for hot or cold food, there are already a number of alternatives. Styrofoam containers are also among the worst for the environment; they break down into tiny little pieces that are easily ingested by fish, animals and ultimately humans.

Plastic straws are already on their way out by restaurants’ choice, but will almost certainly be covered by the Canadian ban nonetheless. A high-profile campaign against plastic straws last year drove numerous multi-national food and beverage companies, including A&W and Starbucks, to replace plastic straws with paper versions, and many restaurants just stopped automatically putting straws in drinks as a first step.

Plastic bottles, however, are unlikely to make the list of banned products. The official said bottles are an area where Canada could require a greater amount of recycled material, and set national targets so 90 to 100% of them are collected for recycling. All of that would trigger provincial and municipal governments to up their recycling games.

Canada currently throws out 12 times the plastic it recycles, and there are only about a dozen domestic recycling plants. Requiring more recycled content in bottles or other plastic products would create a larger market for recycled plastic material that would in turn, spur economic activity in the sector and an explosion in the number of sorting and recycling plants.

A recent report done by Deloitte and ChemInfo Services for Environment and Climate Change Canada found a 90% plastics recycling rate in Canada could create 42,000 jobs.

Environment groups were cautiously optimistic about the announcement Monday, saying they want to see the follow-through but noting the best way to reduce plastic garbage is to reduce the plastic we produce and use to begin with.

“I think we are generally satisfied,” said Vito Buonsante, plastics program manager for Environmental Defence.

Sarah King, head of the oceans and plastics campaign at Greenpeace Canada, called it a good first step.

NDP MP Gord Johns, whose motion calling for a national strategy to combat plastic pollution passed with unanimous support in December, said the Liberals’ move is a good beginning but it is not a full strategy to get to zero plastic waste.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer shrugged it off as another empty announcement devoid of specifics and without any information on the implications for prices for consumers or for jobs in the plastics industry.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is also leery of the proposals, with president Dan Kelly asking for a “thorough economic impact assessment” before anything is banned.

“It would be irresponsible to put such a sweeping measure into place without fully studying the possible impacts on Canada’s small businesses first,” said Kelly. “There is no reason why sound environmental policy and economic development can’t go hand in hand.”


Denmark C-Store earns top international honour

Screen Shot 2019-06-13 at 2.18.21 PMThe operator of 7-Eleven Denmark took home the 2019 NACS International Convenience Retailer of the Year Award during an awards ceremony on June 6.

Reitan Convenience Denmark accepted the award, which recognizes an innovative and successful international convenience store that breaks new ground and sets new innovative standards for the industry, during the NACS Convenience Summit Europe in London.

The award winner is chosen by a grand jury of leading international retailers and experts and earns the accolade of “the best convenience store in the world.” Jack Link’s sponsored the award.

“Jack Link’s is extremely proud to sponsor the International Convenience Retailer of the Year Award. At Jack Link’s we ensure that the customer is at the heart of our plans, and by continually adapting and innovating with new products, we ensure we stay relevant to ever-changing shopper needs,” said David Harriman, regional sales director UK/Ireland and Nordics at Jack’s Links.

“Reitan Convenience Denmark has adopted and innovated its own offering to meet changing customer needs, standing out from its competition. The brand is a well-deserved winner of this prestigious award,” he added.

According to NACS, the Association of Convenience & Fuel Retailing, Reitan Convenience Denmark transformed its way of doing business to stay relevant in Denmark’s competitive c-store marketplace.

The digitalization movement, from online versions of newspapers and magazines to online purchases of transportation tickets, has had a huge impact on Reitan’s business.

“Categories that used to be very good for us started declining,” said Jesper Ostergaard, CEO of Reitan Convenience Denmark, which operates 7-Eleven stores. “We had to decide whether we wanted to accept that 7-Eleven was becoming less and less relevant for consumers, or whether we wanted to prosper and survive.”


Screen Shot 2019-06-13 at 2.17.20 PMThe company used market research to identify areas of growth, which included beverages and foodservice, as well as healthier options. What followed was a total revamp, and to fulfill the new vision, the 7-Eleven Denmark store grew from a traditional kiosk into a modern c-store format with dedicated areas for in-store eating.

In addition, 7-Eleven Denmark is tapping into the consumer demand for fresh, healthy food options by stocking more organic products like fair-trade coffee served with organic fresh milk in 100-percent plant-based cups.

Screen Shot 2019-06-13 at 2.17.05 PMThe stores now carry more than 64 SKUs of vegan and vegetarian ranges, while the packaging of all products utilizes environmentally friendly solutions whenever possible.

“Every time a customer came into our store, we wanted to surprise them with products they perhaps didn’t even know they wanted,” Ostergaard said.

As part of the revamp, more food is prepared fresh on-site, and an extensive grab-and-go section is stocked with private-label fresh salads, wraps, sandwiches, juice, smoothies, fruit and snacks. Thirty-five percent of in-store sales of food, drinks and bakery come from healthier product lines, according to the company.


The retailer also relies on its employees to showcase the store format and its offers. Through gamification, staff receive training, and with more fresh food prepared on-site they also receive extensive training in food safety, while a trained chef manages the food category.

Technology also plays an important role in helping customers navigate and choose products, with digital platforms providing nutritional information.

As NACS noted, 7-Eleven Denmark ties deals and loyalty initiatives into its app, which has led to a significant increase in the number of downloads. The c-stores accept mobile payment, and some high-traffic locations allow self-scan and pay options.

“We have become more relevant to more customers than we have ever been in the last 25 years,” Ostergaard said.

Home delivery via a third-party delivery service is also available in select markets.

“Reitan Convenience Denmark joins a prestigious group of retailers selected to receive this award, which marks the best in convenience retailing,” said Henry Armour, NACS president and CEO. “An aggressive growth strategy with a focus on critical areas — healthy foodservice, technology and its employees — has allowed it to prosper. Reitan Convenience Denmark continues to enhance the customer shopping experience through its innovative strategies.”

To view Reitan’s winning store concept, click here.

Originally published at Convenience Store News. 

Imitating food-first operations for strategic advantage

Canadian newsstand & convenience retailer International News (INS) was dramatically affected by the consumer shift from analogue to digital. By 2014, sharp declines of sales of newspapers and magazines, combined with a protracted trend away from tobacco consumption, had led to a run of double-digit year-over-year declines in system revenue. A bold shift was necessary to shift focus and allocate more space to food and beverages – healthier fare like seaweed snacks, gluten-free items, and fresh & prepared foods.

The same strategic shift has been mirrored by other similar convenience operators, including Gateway Newstands and Hudson Ltd.

International News has cut “readables” to less than 5% of sales. The transition hasn’t been painless, leading to increased franchisee turnover, but, after five years, revenues have recovered, and margins are way up.

Invest in food & foodservice

Market research provider Euromonitor International ( estimates that between 2016 and 2021, total Canadian convenience store retail sales will decline – 0.8% per year in real terms.

Canadian convenience foodservice sales over the same period are projected to grow by +1% per annum, net of price inflation.

There are plenty of tactics and strategies that convenience operators can explore and implement to grow retail sales. However, as with newsstand operators, logic dictates pursuing growth via foodservice offerings.

Fish where the fish are

Screen Shot 2019-06-13 at 12.57.40 PMReal growth after inflation in foodservice is forecast to be at or above 1% per year until 2022.

Quick Serve Restaurants (QSR) represent about 45% of total commercial foodservice sales in Canada, just over $30B in 2018 . The lion’s share of QSR sales are by large chain operators like Tim Hortons, McDonald’s, Subway, Starbucks, and the like.

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Eight of the top 10 chains in Canada by sales are QSR operators. Together, the Top 10 operators represent over one-third of total commercial foodservice sales.

For convenience operators to be successful in capturing customers and share in the foodservice sphere, it’s important to take a page from the QSR playbook.

The leading edge

Screen Shot 2019-06-13 at 1.01.55 PMOne go-to hack that has taken hold in the ‘post-growth’ world is to look and learn from players who are growing rapidly in foodservice by taking share. Exhibit 4 sketches the approach of a number of QSR and fast casual operators worth considering.

These are some of the fastest growing/emerging chains from the U.S. Each of these operators had revenue growth of more than 25% in 2017. Some are growing exponentially.

It’s not magic – it comes down to their core value offerings and strategic approach. They’ve tapped into a recipe of food trends, tastes/preferences, social causes, marketing, and tech innovations that have led to consumer engagement – reinforcing the old adage that if you build it right, they will come.

Commit to tech

Tip: Next time you visit your favourite QSR outlet, pay attention to the number of patrons using their phones, in some way, in the transaction. Everything from pre-ordering, cashless payment, in-store rewards, and sourcing information. After the purchase, there’s a better-than-not likelihood that their phones will be at the ready on the table to surf, text, and entertain.

Tip: Ordering online for carryout or delivery is growing, though it still represents a limited number of QSR eater occasions. However, it is very worth noting that nearly one-third of consumers are using their smartphones for loyalty rewards or special deals.

The 2018 Restarurants Canada Foodservice Facts graphic (Exhibit 3, below) tells the tale of the ways in which consumers are plugging in. Technology accessibility and functionality will increasingly be key influencers for consumers when it comes to restaurant choice decision-making.

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Divine your future

In his article “The rise of Japan: How the car industry was won,” The Globe & Mail’s automotive writer Peter Cheney pointed out, “Japan systematically borrowed the best ideas from (Britain, USA, and Germany)… Japan studied Germany’s superb mechanical designs and installed them in cars that the average consumer could afford.”

When it comes to growing your business by taking foodservice share from your big QSR competitiors, it would serve you well to remember that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.


Technology on the menu for c-store foodservice leaders

Screen Shot 2019-06-13 at 12.37.56 PMAs convenience store operators invest more money, time and square footage in foodservice operations, many are turning to technology for faster service, automation and an improved bottom line.

Whether it’s online or mobile ordering, in-store kiosks, food safety technology or robots cooking in the kitchen, the latest advancements are allowing c-stores to keep up with the restaurant industry and better satisfy customers.

Technology in foodservice is not a new concept, but we are starting to see more innovation. Because of the low unemployment rate and higher labor costs, there is a lot of automation technology being developed,” says Amanda Topper, associate director of foodservice research at Mintel, based in Chicago.Also, mobile ordering and delivery is coming about because we are seeing a shift of more consumers wanting to have off-location dining.”

In fact, 57% of consumers said they planned to use mobile ordering and pickup in 2019, according to Mintel’s Dining Out in 2019 report.

In terms of online ordering and delivery at c-stores, Mintel’s March 2019 C-Store Foodservice Report showed 23% of c-store foodservice customers want to see online ordering from a c-store and 21% want delivery options offered.

We are seeing operators invest more in mobile and online ordering, and shifting to a store concept that meets the needs of consumers placing orders online,” Topper explained.

Technology for training is another area ripe with innovation. Many operators are using iPads or other tablets in the kitchen to feature recipes and provide training videos for kitchen staff on how to prepare meals, according to Jessica Williams, founder and CEO of the consulting firm Food Forward Thinking LLC.

With training, it’s critical to replicate in-person training as much as possible, so video training through iPads or filming recipes in those quick clips people see on Instagram is something that is helping right now,” Williams explained. The digital training will also be key to offering consistent and accurate products across a chain.”

Technology advances are leading to improvements in the food safety arena as well.

One area in particular that’s gaining traction in food safety technology is blockchain food traceability, which enables a customer to track the entire lifecycle of a food product by scanning its QR code.

Blockchain covers every link of the supply chain, from raw materials to production to the final product on the shelf, according to Francine Shaw, president and CEO of Savvy Food Safety Inc., based in Hagerstown, Md. Blockchain also enables companies to track their own supply chain in a secure and paperless way. Data that used to take seven days to collect can now be obtained in mere seconds.

Blockchain will make tracking shipments much less complicated. Every logistical step of a product’s journey will have instantaneous information on who handled it, where and when, resulting in fewer stolen, lost or damaged goods. Suppliers could even trace the temperature and humidity throughout the shipping process,” Shaw said. This will be extremely useful in locating unsafe products or the source of foodborne illnesses, thus preventing costly mass recalls.”

Blockchain technology can also help prevent massive amounts of unnecessary food waste and all of the related costs that go along with it, including labor, storage, disposal of contaminated or mislabeled product, and more, she added.

Originally published at Convenience Store News. 

The big Snacko attacko

Canada’s delivery-only convenience store en route to success

Screen Shot 2019-06-11 at 11.24.48 AMCustomers in Old Toronto, Little Italy, Chinatown, and neighbouring areas of Canada’s largest city who crave a bite of chocolate or a salty nibble late at night but don’t want to make the trip to the nearest store, now have an option to appease their snack attack – from the comfort of their couch. Snacko is one of Canada’s first delivery-only convenience stores.

Started last summer by Connor McPhail, Snacko brings together virtual reality and old-fashioned convenience. As an account manager with Uber Eats, the app-based food-order delivery firm, McPhail saw firsthand how people have come to rely on this new business model. “I got to see the world of food delivery and how it is growing very quickly,” he says.

McPhail also made two astute observations: desserts were an underserviced category and late-night deliveries were uncommon. He also became aware of restaurants that offered only delivery service. “That piqued my interest. I learned a lot about them.”

Armed with personal insight and up-to-date research, McPhail opened Snacko, a convenience store without a storefront. The process works like this. Customers go online to a delivery service like Uber Eats, foodora or Skip the Dishes and select their purchases. Once they have completed the checkout process, which usually takes only several seconds, Snacko accepts the order and a driver arrives to deliver the items.

To ensure service was affordable – in addition to the cost of the merchandise there is a delivery fee – McPhail looked for ways to keep overhead expenses low. He found it in an 8’ x 10’ shipping container that is now home to Snacko. “I wanted something small from where orders could be sent out,” he says.

The selection of snacks is large and getting larger and more diverse. On the virtual shelves, customers can choose from cookies, including Pop Tarts Cookies and Golden Oreos, to 16 varieties of chips and time-tested candy like Ring Pop and Maynards Cherry Blasters…and more. “I’m looking to offer what other convenience stores don’t,”says McPhail.

The 24-year-old store owner, for example, recently introduced edible chocolate chip cookie dough, which is purchased from a local caterer. Such partnerships are inherent in McPhail’s business philosophy. The thinking is that when you support small business, each business benefits.

Introducing new snack items is also easier in a delivery-only business model. “The beautiful thing about my concept is that I can update the menu instantly,” says McPhail. “I also get instant feedback.”

McPhail is continually testing the market to see what resonates with customers. There have been a few eye-openers. “I’m surprised how many people ordered water,”he says. “I’ve seen customers order 10 bottles and that’s it.”

The cost of bottled water from Snacko: $1.49. “Our prices are similar to what you’d find in a convenience store,” says McPhail. “We keep our costs down to be competitive. We are selling convenience.”

Customers find it is money well spent. Business is steady – and growing. McPhail has already hired two part-time employees. “A lot of our customers keep coming back,” he says. “We fit nicely into people’s lifestyles.”

That includes a high level of comfort with online shopping and the use of social media. Thanks to prominent placement on Uber Eats – where Snacko is the highest rated store in downtown Toronto – and the active use of social media to reach new and existing customers, business is doing very well. “We’re definitely looking at expansion plans,” says McPhail. “We want to make our service available to as many people as possible.” 

Screen Shot 2019-06-11 at 11.25.20 AMSnacko’s top tips:

Differentiate yourself from othersStanding out from the crowd keeps you top of mind. At Snacko, for example, each order comes in a nice bag with a company logo. The little extra touches matter.

Exceed customer expectationsGoing above and beyond matters to customers. Connor McPhail, for instance, often writes a personal note for the customer on the delivery bag where it can’t be missed. Sometimes a few extra treats are included.


Canada to ban single-use plastics

shutterstock_1357040840-360x240Canada will ban single-use plastics as early as 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday.

Trudeau said the specific items to be banned will be determined based on a science-based review, but the government is considering items such as water bottles, plastic bags and straws.

“As early as 2021, Canada will ban harmful single-use plastics from coast to coast,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau said his government is drawing inspiration from the European Union’s Parliament, which voted overwhelmingly in March to impose a wide-ranging ban on single-use plastics to counter pollution from discarded items that end up in waterways and fields. Legislatures of the EU member states must vote on the measure before it takes effect.

“Many other countries are doing that and Canada will be one of them,” Trudeau said. “This is a big step but we know can do this for 2021.”

Less than 10% of plastic used in Canada gets recycled. The government said that one million birds and over 100,000 sea mammals worldwide are injured or die each year when they mistake plastic for food or become entangled.

The EU’s measure would affect a range of plastic products for which reasonable alternatives exist, from straws to earbuds, starting in 2021.

Disposable utensils would not be completely off-limits, but the EU measure calls for them to be made of sustainable materials when possible. The EU legislation also sets a goal of having 90 per cent of plastic bottles recycled by 2025 and of halving the litter from the 10 items that turn up in oceans most often.

The EU estimated the changes will cost the bloc’s economy 259 million to 695 million euros a year ($291 million to $781 million). It’s not clear what the cost would be for Canada.

China’s decision to no longer import some of the EU’s waste helped spur the plastics ban.

China banned the import of plastic waste last year, causing other Southeast Asian nations to become new destinations. The Philippines, complaining of being treated like a dumpsite by wealthier nations, shipped 69 containers of what its officials called illegally transported garbage back to Canada in May.

5 top tips to increase your curb appeal

Don’t curb your enthusiasm!

For convenience retailers, with or without a gas offering, making your location look inviting, safe, well-stocked, up-to-date and thoroughly modern is an ongoing battle. But it’s a battle well worth waging.

It is imperative that certain aspects be maintained, as often a site’s outward appearance is the first step to getting a customer to further explore what else you have to offer. First impressions are key in convenience retail.

Screen Shot 2019-06-07 at 11.00.04 AMHere are five tips every c-store should consider to keep customers coming back, bring new shoppers through the door, and increase that all important curb appeal:

  • Be a clean machine. Cleanliness is key, both inside and outside your location. If you have a fuel offering, the pumps will need regular attention. Emptying trash cans, sweeping up unwanted debris and maintaining equipment should become standard part of yours or your staff’s routine, and schedules should be created to ensure things aren’t missed.


  • Stock fully. Full merchandisers reinforced your commitment to provide customers with both selection and price choices. Keep the washer-fluid, firewood, ice, etc. fully stocked and ready to sell. In the winter, brush off excess snow and keep your products as visible as possible in off-season. In the summer, make sure you have enough ice and coolant. 


  • Shine a light. A well-lit location implies safety. Keep canopy lights, exterior signage and any specialty lighting fully lit. Having canopy letters or feature-lit sections that do not work, or work only partially, speaks volumes to the perceived service a customer will receive.


  • Don’t forget your outdoor space. Innovative and seasonal exterior products help to make both the exterior look full and drive what can be a high margin category, when done well. For example, propane exchanges, firewood and ice all have a place in the exterior layout, and if there are seasonal factors, perhaps a featured position or specialty product is warranted.


  • Make it visible. Good visibility of the interior of the store from the exterior is often highly underrated. Having an exterior setup that works with the glass, windows and entranceway of the location makes it easy for the customer to see into the location, and your employees to see out. Keep site lines and heights in mind while positioning exterior categories to help keep the overall store looking open and inviting, plus adding an extra level of safety.


With summer just around the corner, what better time to do a little spring cleaning and operation refreshment?


Russell Large is vice president of retail services for Hugh Large & Associates Inc., the Convenience Guru,