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Source: Instragram

The Pumps run dry

Source: Instragram

Source: Instragram

After nearly a decade in business, Leslieville Pumps General Store & Kitchen is reinventing itself and moving from its current location to a nearby storefront on Queen Street East in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood. The catch? No more fuel service.

Brothers Greg and Judson Flom took over the site in October of 2011 and quickly established themselves as a unique voice in the c-gas community, with a strong vision for foodservice.  The Toronto location, modelled after an American site the duo researched online, became a southern barbecue destination, famous for pulled pork sandwiches, poutine and its late-night curry offering targeting local revellers on their way home from the bars.

Screen Shot 2020-09-01 at 3.44.59 PMThe announcement of the closure came via social media on August 27, after rumours started swirling when neighbours noticed the building’s iconic signage coming down. Many feared The Pumps, as it’s known locally, was a victim of pandemic-related closures.

During the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown, Leslieville Pumps was an industry leader, quickly announcing enhanced sanitizing measures and even offering to run orders out to people’s cars. It was the early days of curbside delivery.

Source: Instagram

Source: Instagram

Instead of an end, however, it’s a new beginning. “After an awesome 10 years of being Toronto’s most unique gas station we are excited to move into a space that will allow us to focus on our love for BBQ and continue to provide all your convenience store goods.”

Fuel will no longer be on the menu, however. The Floms marked the change with a special deal, offering gas at 50 cents/L from 9 a.m. August 28 until the pumps ran dry. By 10 a.m., it was all over and the pumps were being dismantled.

The kitchen closed on August 29 and the general store followed on August 31.

Screen Shot 2019-11-14 at 9.16.50 PMIn a social media post commemorating their last day at the old location, the brothers said: “When we opened almost a decade ago, we were so excited to open the shop and start our culinary adventure. Little did we know that at the end of today would be the first day we’ve had to lock the door. Running a 24/7 business has been thrilling and unforgettable. To be part of the daily rituals of the early risers and night dwellers in Leslieville, we’ve created friendships that will surely follow us a few doors down to our new location.”

The new location, just three doors down at 913 Queen Street East, is slated to open this month. It’s being dubbed a General Store so patrons can expect some of their favourite convenience items and snacks alongside the famous BBQ menu.

 

Leslieville Pumps General Store & Kitchen has share insights and been feature in Convenience Store News Canada and OCTANE several times over the years. Here’s a look back at the coverage:

Pumps’ co-owners share tips for foodservice success

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Leslieville Pumps: 3 ways to get foodservice right

Four ways you can go digital 

Barbecue barons


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Second Cup to close more stores and pilot gas station drive thrus

The Second Cup Ltd. plans to close more stores, sell more of its product in grocery stores and open gas station drive-thrus as it looks to recover from the deep hit absorbed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

images-1The e Mississauga, Ont.-based beverage company says a pilot program will see it open at three Petro-Canada locations in Ontario this year.

Second Cup says the retail sales will supplement its own e-commerce platform that launched in April as much of its coffee house network was forced to close.

It is also moving into “non-traditional” cafe locations such as hospitals, airports, train stations and other transportation venues, with 14 locations scheduled to open across Canada in the next 18 months.

Second Cup says its net loss surged to $1.93 million in the second quarter, from a loss of $783,000 a year earlier.

Net revenue fell nearly 46% to $3.5 million from $6.5 million in the prior year as system network sales decreased 68% to $10.9 million from $34.4 million.

“With an increasing number of Canadians working from home, we know that the daily coffee experience is changing,” says Steven Pelton, CEO of Aegis, the new corporate name for Second Cup.

“People want to be able to have a premium Second Cup coffee experience in their own kitchens, and we are going to make that easier for them, with the return of Second Cup coffee products to retail banners across Canada.”

Same-store sales plunged 52.6% compared with an 8.6% decrease in the first quarter as all 19 Bridgehead coffeehouses in Ottawa and 130 of the 244 Second Cup locations across Canada closed in mid-March.


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Insights and lessons from pandemic snacking trends

Increased home time, family time, leisure screen time, stress and near 24/7 access to our pantries, have all translated into a rise in snacking, as Canadian consumers reach for treats and comfort foods

Screen Shot 2020-08-10 at 4.30.51 PMOther than checking my bathroom scale, there are broader metrics to demonstrate that consumers like me increased snacking during the lockdown.

In order to quantify these kinds of shifts in consumer spending in the United States as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, market tracking company IRI recently launched its CPG Demand Index to measure weekly changes in consumer purchases, by dollar sales and channel.

IRI tracked an increase in total core snacking of +40% year-over-year (YOY) for the week ending March 15, and +34% for the following week. For the week ending April 5, snacking sales modulated, but still grew +7 YOY.

Results from a broad survey of consumers in the United Kingdom, conducted by supermarket chain Waitrose, revealed that nearly 40% of consumers reported an increase in snacking during lockdown. 

In turn, the Frito-Lay Snack Index, released at the end of May, found 85% of respondents said eating their favourite snack makes them feel normal, while 83% said their favourite summer snacks remind them of good times and nearly half (48%) said eating their favourite snack makes them feel happy. 

Bottom line is that increased home time, family time, leisure screen time, stress and near 24/7 access to our pantries, have all translated into a rise in snacking, as Canadian consumers reach for treats and comfort foods. 

 

Stocking up

In the third week of February 2020, the Dow Jones average was nosing 30,000 for the first time: This was the end of the longest bull market in recorded history. However, by the third week of March, the Index had lost more than one-third of its value, essentially wiping out the cumulative gains of 2017, 2018, 2019, and Q1 2020. As of this writing, markets have recovered somewhat to levels of early January 2018.

There have been some exceptions to this general trend. Shopify is a Canadian multinational e-commerce company, offering a proprietary software platform that facilitates retailers selling their products online and in stores. Shopify’s stock value has flourished during COVID-19, as most retailers scrambled to up their online presence. Between January to mid-March 2020, Shopify stock was up about 5%. Between March and May, Shopify’s stock value doubled, surpassing RBC as Canada’s most valued stock. 

Despite a precipitous drop in foodservice channel sales during the global lockdown, a number of large food companies have seen success. Mondelez, PepsiCo and Kellogg’s are all examples of bucking the trend and boats rising in a down market.

Mondelez reported organic sales growth of more than +6% for the first quarter of 2020, beating Wall Street estimates. Mondelez CEO Dirk Van de Put attributed the performance to the rapid growth in snacking due to shelter-at-home behaviours.

PepsiCo reported nearly +8% net revenue growth in Q1 2020, as consumers stocked up on beverages, salty snacks and other food items for at-home consumption. Key observations during COVID-19, include:

o   Shift to at-home consumption – growth in snacking during the day

o   Increased usage of large-format pack sizes

o   Shift away from immediate consumption

o   Increased purchase “basket size”—fewer shopping trips with a higher value

o   Increased use of e-commerce sourcing

The company is leaning into the changes in consumer behaviour and has developed a game plan, with an emphasis on snacking. While PepsiCo expects gradual improvement in sales at convenience and gas channels as people return to work, the company is also embracing an e-commerce strategy, launching two U.S.-based direct-to-consumer sites to capitalize on the growing appetite for snacks. Snack.com offers more than 100 Frito-Lay snack products, while PantryShop.com features multi-product bundles of Quaker and other brands to meet specific day-part and lifestyle needs

At Kellogg’s, North America financial reporting for the first quarter of 2020 showed organic sales rose 6%, with volumes up 5%. This largest driver for this growth was the company’s snacks segment, according to Amit Banati, senior vice president and chief financial officer.

Kellogg’s cracker sales jumped almost 40% versus a year earlier, while salty snacks and wholesome snacks rose nearly 30%.

“This consumption growth has been broad-based across our portfolio of brands,” Banati said. “From an occasion standpoint, we have seen less lift for on-the-go items and more growth for pantry packs”.

Opportunity to take share

Traditional convenience and gas non-fuel sales have been oriented towards impulse consumption—providing products that are consumed within an hour of purchase. Legislated changes to consumer behaviour have impacted the convenience channel significantly. 

The convenience business model is built on and grounded in consumer mobility, social activity and time scarcity. In a pandemic, virtually overnight, this evolved into immobility, isolation, CPG scarcity and boredom. Rather than getting from point A to B as fast as possible, fuelled by an on-the-run meal or snack, consumers’ priorities shifted to limiting retail trips, avoiding crowds, and eschewing public transit.

The great news for the convenience channel is that proximity plus offering consumers a streamlined retail experience have never been more important. As working from home and home schooling/daycare become entrenched as a kind of new normal for consumers, there is an expanded role for the convenience channel to play as a provider of pantry staples, meal kits, fresh produce, non-food cleaning/hygiene products and even office supplies.  

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Use your smarts

Symphony RetailAI, along with partner ROC Associates, use technology to optimize performance for gas/convenience, foodservice and grocery, drawing insights from their pool of retailers: Their findings are representative of thousands of stores and millions of households globally. 

Trusha Pandya, account director at Symphony RetailAI noted a number of trends emerging across the convenience channel as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded.

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Data showed that, overall, c-store sales tracked improving week-over-week performance. At the outset of the lockdown, Symphony “recommended that convenience store retailers stock up on frozen and canned fruits and vegetables.” As the market gradually transitions into a new phase of the pandemic, Symphony is advising convenience retailers to renew their “focus on better-for-you and fresh options, (which should) also translate to snack categories.”

 Be a camel

In an article in The Globe and Mail, venture capitalist Alexandre Lazarow called for Silicon Valley to create a new model for a post-pandemic world. 

He notes that the tech world has spent the past 20 years trying to find the next “unicorn” startup. Unicorns are companies having seemingly unlimited potential, capable of growing from zero to more than $1-billion valuation in short order. 

Our current harsher, less stable market environment calls for a different approach. Instead of unicorns, the future will be “camel” startups that prioritize sustainability and resiliency.

Lazarow writes that the camel, “adapts to multiple climates, survives without food or water for months, and has humps to protect itself from the desert’s deprivations. Unlike unicorns, camels are not imaginary creatures… camels are survivors.” 

There will be bumps and impediments in the road ahead. As always, the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and sustain your business through emerging challenges, will enable you to survive and flourish. Put simply, just like all of us in the face of COVID-19, be prepared to do what you need to do to live to fight another day.

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Darren Climans is a foodservice insights professional with close to 20 years’ experience partnering with broadline distributors, CPG suppliers, and foodservice operators. His practice is to understand issue-based decisions by taking a data-driven approach to strategic decision making.

 


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Staying power

At 181, Nova Scotia’s Frieze and Roy is celebrated as Canada’s oldest general store

Screen Shot 2020-07-27 at 3.52.06 PMScreen Shot 2020-07-27 at 3.54.09 PMEverybody in the community of Maitland, NS, roughly 90 kilometres from Halifax, knows that you can get potato chips, lottery tickets, and even maple syrup at Frieze and Roy. While they enjoy the convenience of shopping, and dining, at their local c-store and adjoining cafe, they also appreciate the store’s biggest selling feature: its commitment to community.

Indeed, that is the reason co-owner Troy Robertson purchased the store eight years ago. The decision to buy, he says, was less about business and more about what the store meant to the town of approximately 8,200 people. “It’s the heart of the community. It’s where people drop in. It’s where people leave messages for one another.” 

People in Maitland have been doing all that—and more—at Frieze and Roy for 181 years. For much of the 1800s, it was a focal point for the shipbuilding trade. As that century was coming to a close, the shop became more of a general store offering customers everything from farm tools to fine china. Today, Frieze and Roy is recognized as Canada’s oldest general store.

That rich history contributes to the bottom line today. The store has been featured in articles and on television and continues to draw media attention. “People are interested in stuff that has been around for a long time,” says Robertson. 

To meet tourist’s needs, the store offers a range of souvenirs. In particular, notes Robertson, “they want something with the word ‘Maitland’ or ‘Frieze and Roy, Canada’s oldest general store’ on it. If people are flying, they like a gift that is smaller than 12 inches.”

Meeting the very specific needs of customers is central to Robertson’s business philosophy. “I watch what people buy. I ask them what they want. I tailor my inventory to my customers,” he says.  

That includes offering them the option of purchasing liquor. Frieze and Roy is one of the select convenience stores licensed by the government of Nova Scotia to sell wine, beer and spirits: 9% of sales are alcohol, notes Robertson. “You have to bring something in to draw people in.” 

Screen Shot 2020-07-27 at 3.54.37 PMIn addition to ensuring customers find what they need, and what they want, Robertson has worked to make the store a gathering place. That work started when he purchased the admittedly deteriorating building and essentially gutted the interior, creating a c-store on one side and the Mudslide Cafe on the other. In the middle (a shared buffer between the two businesses) is a gift shop that supports both operations. 

“The goal was to create a feeling that people are going to an old place that is comfortable,” says Robertson. “We are not Shoppers Drug Mart. We do not want to look or feel like Shoppers Drug Mart.”

Screen Shot 2020-07-27 at 3.55.02 PMMany locals prefer to shop local, he adds. “The lines are smaller. It’s faster. It’s their community. People want to go someplace that doesn’t feel like a mall.” 

Nothing could feel less cookie-cutter than the town of Maitland itself. Only an hour’s drive from the province’s capital city, the town sits on the edge of the Cobequid Bay, an inlet off the Bay of Fundy, which boasts the world’s highest tides. “There are few places like this left,” says Robertson.

The same could be said of the Frieze and Roy general store.

  

Frieze and Roy’s tips for a successful store

Screen Shot 2020-07-27 at 3.53.57 PMImprint. Running a c-store is a lifestyle and a lifestyle choice, says Troy Robertson. It’s also hard work, he notes. “You can’t put in your 40 hours and go home.”

Inhale. Building a business takes time, says Robertson. “You need patience and flexibility to grow the business.”

Increase. C-stores can expand their reach and improve the bottom line through strategic partnerships with suppliers –and with each other, says Robertson, who would like to see the sector share information and purchase collectively. “There really is power in numbers.” 

 


Demand for robot cooks rises as kitchens combat COVID-19

Robots that can cook – from flipping burgers to baking bread – are in growing demand as virus-wary kitchens try to put some distance between workers and customers.

Starting this fall, the White Castle burger chain will test a robot arm that can cook french fries and other foods. The robot, dubbed Flippy, is made by Pasadena, California-based Miso Robotics.

White Castle and Miso have been discussing a partnership for about a year. Those talks accelerated when COVID-19 struck, said White Castle Vice-President Jamie Richardson.

Richardson said the robot can free up employees for other tasks like disinfecting tables or handling the rising number of delivery orders. A touch-free environment that minimizes contact is also increasingly important to customers, he said.

“The world’s just reshaped in terms of thoughts around food safety,” Richardson said.

Flippy currently costs $30,000, with a $1,500 monthly service fee. By the middle of next year, Miso hopes to offer the robot for free but charge a higher monthly fee.

Robot food service was a trend even before the coronavirus pandemic, as hospitals, campus cafeterias and others tried to meet demand for fresh, customized options 24 hours a day while keeping labour costs in check. Robot chefs appeared at places like Creator, a burger restaurant in San Francisco, and Dal.komm Coffee outlets in South Korea.

Now, some say, robots may shift from being a novelty to a necessity. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says the risk of getting COVID-19 from handling or consuming food outside the home is low. Still, there have been numerous outbreaks among restaurant employees and patrons.

“I expect in the next two years you will see pretty significant robotic adoption in the food space because of COVID,” said Vipin Jain, the co-founder and CEO of Blendid, a Silicon Valley startup.

Blendid sells a robot kiosk that makes a variety of fresh smoothies. Customers can order from a smartphone app and tweak the recipe if they want more kale or less ginger, for example. Once or twice a day, a Blendid employee refills the ingredients.

Only a handful are now operating around San Francisco, but since the pandemic began, Blendid has started contract discussions with hospitals, corporations, shopping malls and groceries.

“What used to be forward-thinking – last year, pre-COVID – has become current thinking,” Jain said.

As salad bars shut down, Hayward, California-based Chowbotics started getting more inquiries about Sally, a robot about the size of a refrigerator that makes a variety of salads and bowls. Sally lets customers choose from 22 prepared ingredients stored inside the machine. It can make around 65 bowls a day before kitchen workers need to refill the ingredients.

Prior to this year, Chowbotics had sold around 125 of its $35,000 robots, primarily to hospitals and colleges. But since the coronavirus hit, sales have jumped more than 60%, CEO Rick Wilmer said, with growing interest from grocery stores, senior living communities and even the U.S. Department of Defence.

Wilkinson Baking Co., whose BreadBot mixes, forms and bakes loaves of bread, has also been getting more inquiries. Randall Wilkinson, the CEO of the Walla Walla, Washington-based company, said the BreadBot serves shifting needs. Grocery shoppers no longer want self-serve options like olive bars, but they still want fresh and local food. Seeing how that food is made also gives them more confidence, he said.

Robot cooks haven’t always been successful. Spyce, a Boston restaurant with a robot-run kitchen, closed in November to retool its menu. Zume, a Silicon Valley startup that made pizzas with robots, shut down its pizza business in January. It’s now making face masks and biodegradable takeout containers.

Max Elder, research director of the Food Futures Lab at the Palo Alto, California-based Institute for the Future, is skeptical about the future of food prep robots once the pandemic has eased.

“Food is so personal, and it needs to involve humans,” he said.

Elder is also concerned that focusing on automating food preparation during the pandemic will shift attention from other problems in the food system, like outbreaks among meat industry workers or produce pickers.

“We can’t automate our way out of the pandemic because the pandemic affects much more than what can be automated,” Elder said.

Automated food companies insist they’re not trying to replace human workers. At White Castle, Richardson says Flippy will allow managers to redeploy workers to drive-thru lanes or help them cover a shift if an employee calls in sick. Wilmer, of Chowbotics, says Sally may actually create jobs, since it keeps selling food at times of day when it wouldn’t have been available before.

But robots can lower the demand for labour. At the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, workers used to spend six hours per day prepping grab-and-go salads in the 24-hour cafe, said Tonya Johnson, the school’s director of nutrition services. But two years ago, the campus installed a Sally, which now makes an average of 40 salads per day. Sally allowed the school to eliminate a vacancy in its cooking staff, Johnson said.

Johnson said the campus is buying another Sally for students to use when they return this August, which will save four hours per day of grab-and-go salad prep in the college deli.

“I think the pandemic has made us realize how much we need more equipment like Sally,” Johnson said.

Miso Robotics co-founder and CEO Buck Jordan said fast food restaurants are already having trouble finding workers, due in part to a shrinking population of young workers.

“It’s our contention that automation is not a choice,” Jordan said. “You must automate in order to survive the future.”


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Burger King addresses climate change by changing cows’ diets

106613995-1594665222128cowsmenu_keyvisual_july2020Burger King is staging an intervention with its cows.

The chain has rebalanced the diet of some of the cows by adding lemon grass in a bid to limit bovines contributions to climate change. By tweaking their diet, Burger King said Tuesday that it believes it can reduce a cows’ daily methane emissions by about 33%.

Cows emit methane as a by-product of their digestion, and that has become a potential public relations hurdle for major burger chains.

Greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture sector made up 9.9% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Of that amount, methane emissions from livestock (called enteric fermentation) comprised more than a quarter of the emissions from the agriculture sector.

With an over-the-top social media campaig n that teeters between vulgarity and science (sprinkled with more vulgarity), Burger King is banking on the heightened awareness of climate change and its responsibility to limit its own role.

According to a recent poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, about two out of three Americans say corporations have a responsibility to combat climate change. The gravitational pull of climate change is increasingly finding its way onto national political stage.

Potential customers are also cutting down on the amount of meat they consume, citing both environmental and dietary concerns. Burger King and rival McDonald’s have added meat alternatives to their menus.

Two years ago McDonald’s said it was taking steps to cut the greenhouse gases it emits. It tweaked the manner in which the beef in its Big Macs and Quarter Pounders was produced. The company said at the time that it expected the changes to prevent 150 million metric tons (165 million tons) of greenhouse gas emissions from being released into the atmosphere by 2030.

Burger King worked with scientists at the Autonomous University at the State of Mexico and at the University of California, Davis to test and develop its formula of adding 100 grams of lemongrass leaves to the cows’ daily diets. Preliminary tests indicate that the lemongrass leaves help the cows release less methane as they digest their food.

On Tuesday, Burger King introduced its Reduced Methane Emissions Beef Whopper, made with beef sourced from cows that emit reduced methane, in select restaurants in Miami, New York, Austin, Portland and Los Angeles, while supplies last.


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Canada’s growing food insecurity issue

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StatsCan confirmed what most of us already know: Canada is becoming a hungrier place.

According to a survey conducted by the federal agency in May, almost one in seven (14.6%) Canadians indicated they lived in a household where there was food insecurity in the past month. In 2017-18, a similar survey was conducted and 10.5% of households in Canada felt food insecure.

StatsCan results were consistent with a survey conducted by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University around the same time, which found 61% of Canadians felt they had enough food and did not consider access to food an issue. That sentiment was at 72.6% last year, a drop of more than 12%. Alberta saw the largest drop between the two periods at 21.2%. More than 4.1 million Canadians now see access to affordable food for survival as a challenge, compared to a year ago. These are massive numbers. And chances are, the situation may get worse by the time this pandemic is over.

Most surveys will likely continue to point to a changing Canadian food security landscape. The hyper sentiment of food security is largely because many have lost their jobs and most of us face a future overflowing with uncertainty. More than 8 million Canadians applied for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which will eventually come to an end. More than $52 billion has been paid out to Canadians so far. That is a third of Ontario’s entire budget.

What will likely make matters worse are food prices. The current food inflation rate is at 3.4% and could reach 4% by year’s end. The food inflation is likely to be much higher than the typical 1.5% to 2.5%. Costs to produce, process, and distribute are all increasing. Physical distancing, personnel turnover, training, double shifts, the use of personal protective gear, equipment modifications, and an increase in the use in automation are all factors contributing to cost increases. To get food to market, companies across the supply chain will need to charge more, full stop.

Grocers may be reluctant to pass on these extra costs to consumers, but eventually they won’t have much of a choice. Here is why: It is assumed that food companies face individual distribution challenges, but this isn’t entirely accurate. COVID-19 has affected the entire system the same way, at the same time. In this context, companies are facing the same challenges, and grocers know that.

The macroeconomic backdrop of this are deflationary pressures that are affecting many other aspects of our economy. Many things are getting cheaper. StatsCan noted that our general inflation rate is currently at -0.4%, a drop of 0.2% from the month before. Clothes, footwear, education and transportation, are many components of the consumer price index that are dropping. Some say consumers are spending less on certain things and thus will have more means to spend on food. Not really.

In the past, grocers have had to deal with a market in which food prices were much higher than the general inflation rate, but nothing like this. COVID-19 proved a simultaneous supply and demand shock, which has never happened before. With lower prices everywhere, expectations will shift and will lead to more frugality in the marketplace. Current market conditions suggest there is less cash in the market. Grocers, other food retailers and restaurants will have to fight to maintain market shares while dealing with higher costs. Fewer stores and fewer SKUs in stores is a likely scenario. There are some investments being made in e-commerce by many players, from farmers to processors to grocers, to help make the entire supply chain much more democratic.

To offset the effects of a higher-than-usual food inflation rate in a deflationary environment will be our grocers most significant challenge. However, some analysts predict our deflationary phase is only momentary and prices should get back into their inflationary groove within months. As people return to work, there will be more money in the economy, and hopefully an inflation rate that we can all afford. It is the only way to make Canada feel less food insecure.

Sylvain Charlebois is professor in food distribution policy and senior director/AGRI-FOOD ANALYTICS LAB at Dalhousie University. He writes for CSNC sister publication Canadian Grocer.


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How will c-store foodservice rebound post-pandemic? 

As the country gets back to business (and school), Jeff Dover, president of fsSTRATEGY, shares 8 best practices for welcoming back hungry customers

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Foodservice is an increasingly important segment in convenience stores.  The impact of COVID-19 restrictions surrounding foodservice has been devastating for many foodservice operators.  As convenience store foodservice is almost exclusively eaten off-site, the impact on stores allowed to remain open has been relatively minimal.  However, foodservice at convenience stores must change to ensure continued success. 

  1. Customer comfort

Most consumers are eager to return to their normal lifestyles as lockdown restrictions are eased and eating food away from home is no exception.  The key to success will be having sanitation and safety practices for guests and employees visibly in place for those less comfortable with convenience store foodservice.  Word of mouth of such practices will result in more people comfortable with using your foodservice offerings.  Being known as “doing things right post-COVID-19” will help.  

2. Masks

Staff preparing and serving food should wear masks. Masks reduce the spread of pathogens from the wearer to others. Instead of plain masks, customize masks that are appropriate for your store (logos, patterns, etc.).  Staff could wear a button with a picture of their faces to provide some personalization, as hiding faces behind masks is counter-intuitive to service culture. Masks with smiles also allow this key aspect of service. 

 3. Wash and sanitize hands 

Prior to serving any food, staff should wash and sanitize their hands (and do so visibly in front of the customer).  Even though we are recommending that staff sanitize hands prior to service, food should not be touched.  Serving utensils should always be used and sanitized regularly.  

 4. No self-service

Ensure that all food is served by an employee.  Other than packaged foods, customers should not be self-serving. Unfortunately, this includes self-service of beverages—to the extent coffee, fountain and frozen drinks are served, machines will have to be moved behind the counter, at least initially. Quick service restaurants are also adapting to this change.  Despite a pre-COVID-19 move away from single-use cups, refillable beverage programs should also be discontinued.  Restrictions on self-service beverages and food will likely be lifted over time.

 5. Reconfiguring the foodservice area

Foodservice spaces need to be reconfigured to ensure proper social distancing is possible.  If not already in place, floor markings for those waiting to order and pay for their food, as well as direction of travel floor indicators, are recommended.

 6. Condiment stations

Similar to beverage stations, condiment stations will be eliminated, at least in the short term.  Cream, sugar, etc. for coffee should be provided and stirred by an employee. Other condiments, such as, ketchup, mustard, relish and hot sauce should be kept in individual packaged servings and provided by the employee with the food.  Employees should wash and sanitize their hands prior to handling the condiments. 

Condiments are more expensive individually packaged than in bulk. Employees tend to over-provide condiments to customers.  I recommend having employees confirm the number of condiments needed with the customer. 

 7. Menu selection

For the most part, food sold at convenience stores should be hand held.  Most convenience stores do not have a dining area. Menus should focus on food that can be eaten on the go.

The menu should also consider food that holds well.  It is important that food is prepared in batches that are likely to be sold before the quality deteriorates.  While prepared-to-order food and self-selecting of ingredients is becoming increasingly popular in foodservice operations, it does not work in convenience stores where employees are not dedicated to foodservice and must also focus on cashier and stocking duties.  Items should be easy to serve quickly.  Speed of service is important.

 8. Quality control

As mentioned, foodservice at convenience stores should hold well and be easily and quickly served.  However, it is important that quality is not compromised.  Customers will not return if they are served food that has deteriorated in quality or is not served at the correct temperature.  To be successful, food should be prepared in batches based on expected demand.  Forecasting demand is key.  Over-producing food that has to be discarded (and food should be discarded when quality deteriorates) is costly.  Similarly, you don’t want to lose sales if food is not ready when needed.

Food safety is also important.  Food should not be held in the “danger zone” of between 4.5 degrees and 60 degrees Celsius where bacteria grows at a rapid rate.  Temperatures of coolers and food in steam tables, etc. should be checked and logged regularly to ensure safety.

 

Screen Shot 2020-07-14 at 4.19.10 PMfsSTRATEGY is a consulting firm specializing in strategic advisory services for the hospitality industry, with an emphasis on food and beverage. Jeff Dover is based in Toronto and can be reached at 416-229-2290 ext. 2 or jdover@fsstrategy.com. 

This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of Convenience Store News Canada. 


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Couche-Tard rolls out new “Fresh Food Fast” program

Like all convenience store retailers, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. has adjusted its operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it has not taken its foot off the gas when it comes to key initiatives, such as the rollout of its new food program throughout North America.

Brian Hannasch

Brian Hannasch

The new program, which Couche-Tard calls “Fresh Food Fast,” presents a significant organic-growth opportunity, with expectations for both top-line and margin improvement, according to president and CEO Brian Hannasch.

“We continue to be excited about its potential. In markets where the new program has been available, customer feedback has been very positive, and both food unit sales and overall sales in the stores with the program have significantly outpaced comparable sales at other stores in those same markets,” he reported during the company’s fourth-quarter fiscal year 2020 earnings call, held June 30.

As the world entered the coronavirus pandemic, Couche-Tard moved quickly to cut costs, but there were a few items the company felt were “sacred,” Hannasch explained. These included IT initiatives, new-to-industry builds, and the new food program.

Unknown-1The parent company of Circle K did hit the pause button temporarily on rolling out the program because, according to Hannasch, Couche-Tard did not think “it was prudent” to allow sampling or to conduct training during the health crisis.

“However, we will continue to build out the program, and we continue to install equipment as planned. We laid the groundwork with approximately 500 stores during the [fourth] quarter and continue to expand rapidly toward our target of 1,500 installations for the calendar year and 2,300 stores during the fiscal year,” he stated.

Couche-Tard has resumed training on the new program, and all of its converted c-stores will soon offer the new food assortment.

In addition, the retailer continues to roll out its on-demand coffee program. The U.S. rollout is now complete, and Couche-Tard has shifted its focus to rolling it out across Europe, according to the chief executive, who added that the espresso-based beverage equipment was deployed with 450 machines during the fourth quarter.

Also in Europe, its Froster frozen dispensed beverage program is now available at more than 200 stores. The program has been a Circle K mainstay in North America.

“We continue to see great opportunity to scale this offer in that region, as it’s been a solid driver of incremental trips to our stores, especially in Ireland where we started testing last year, where traction with customers has been impressive, and more recent in the Baltics as we moved into warm summer months,” Hannasch said.

As of April 26, Laval-based Couche-Tard’s network comprised 9,414 c-stores throughout North America, including 8,221 stores with road transportation fuel. Its North American network consists of 18 business units, including 14 in the United States covering 48 states and four in Canada covering all 10 provinces.

In Europe, Couche-Tard operates a retail network across Scandinavia, Ireland, Poland, the Baltics and Russia through 10 business units. As of April 26, its European network comprised 2,710 stores, the majority of which offer road transportation fuel and convenience products while the others are unmanned automated fuel stations that only offer road transportation fuel.

In addition, under licensing agreements, close to 2,350 stores are operated under the Circle K banner in 15 other countries and territories, bringing the worldwide total network to close to 14,500 stores.

Originally published at Convenience Store News. 


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Refrigeration cleaning tips to protect against COVID-19 and food-borne bacteria

With convenience stores and micro markets declared essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic, your site likely adopted a stricter cleaning routine to prevent the virus spread. This is also an ideal time to look at best practices for food safety, because commercial refrigerators and freezers can quickly become bacterial carriers if not properly maintained. 

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Given the right conditions, bacteria found in food can double every 10 minutes, which means that 1,000 bacteria can grow to 1/2 million about 90 minutes! So, let’s look at how to create conditions where neither COVID-19 or food-borne bacteria can survive. 

Cleaning 101

Research shows COVID-19 can survive up to nine days onmetal, glass and plastic if these surfaces are not properly disinfected. While it can be tempting to saturate your refrigerated units with a strong cleaner like bleach or ammonia, don’t, as these products can contaminate food. 

Instead, use a soft cloth with a non-abrasive liquid detergent cleaner mixed with water. Soap and water are proven to eliminate the virus, as soap interferes with the fats in the virus shell, which lifts the virus from surfaces and is then rinsed off with water. (This is also why frequent handwashing is effective at preventing the virus spread.)

We recommend deep cleaning your refrigeration units monthly, but exterior door handles and doors are high-traffic areas and should be wiped down several times a day. While most sites these days have hand sanitizer available for customers to use at the checkout counter, it’s also a good idea to provide hand sanitizer or sanitizing hand wipes (with at least 70% alcohol content) directly beside any refrigerated merchandisers.

Before deep cleaning your unit’s interior or exterior, always unplug it. Neverapply or spray any undiluted cleaner directly to the unit, since excessive liquid can seep into the electrical connections and cause a malfunction or electrical hazard. To avoid any contamination, ensure all cleaning materials are cleaned themselves (for instance, use a fresh cloth each time) and stored so bacteria is not transferred from one surface to another. Also, keep cleaning equipment for refrigeration units separate from those used for floors or other store equipment.

Cleaning also gives you a chance to inspect the unit for any damage. For example, when wiping down the door gaskets and glass, check for gaps or tears in the gaskets, which can cause air leakage or a build-up of dirt or grease. If you’re not able to snap them back into place, they need to be replaced. Most units are self-defrosting, but if you have manual defrost units, follow the manufacturer’s instructions—regular defrosting is essential, as it helps prevent serious damage to compressors. 

If your unit has a conventional condenser, it should also be cleaned monthly to avoid breakdowns caused by an overworked motor. To clean it, remove the front grill, switch off on the control panel and unplug it, then use a small, hand-held duster to clean inside, and, if necessary, a vacuum cleaner for any additional debris. Don’t forget to reattach the front grill, which helps to protect the condenser from debris and damage.Some units are built with low maintenance condensers, which require regular visual inspections and much less frequent cleaning than conventional condensers.

 Freezers need to breath

Screen Shot 2020-06-11 at 10.41.35 AMWithout optimal airflow, you risk a blocked condenser, which can result in equipment failure, overheating, spoiled product, higher electrical costs and even a possible void on your warranty. 

  •     Position each unit away from the surrounding walls
  •     Ensure each unit has a dedicated electrical outlet 
  •     Situate away from other equipment that radiates heat or produces airborne oil and grime
  •     Inspect regularly to check for blockages 

In addition, distribute the product evenly inside the unit, as overloading blocks interior airflow, which can lead to spoiled food and equipment damage. Cabinets are also better able to maintain a stable temperature if they’re stocked, but not overstocked, versus empty, as the thermal mass of the refrigerated or frozen products helps to maintain the interior temperature.

Temperature matters 

Technically, a refrigeration unit can’t get a “fever”, but temperature variations are a serious threat to food safety, potentially contributing to bacteria growth, pathogens and cross-contamination. 

In an environment where doors are being opened and closed frequently, maintaining optimal temperatures within the unit is crucial. For example, chilled foods, such as sandwiches should be kept within the 37°F to 41°F range. Short spikes, not exceeding 30 minutes, above 41°F are acceptable. 

 If you do not have a temperature malfunctioning safeguard, you should aim to monitor temperatures frequently each hour to make sure they are within the healthy range. Since you need to sanitize the handles on merchandiser doors often, you can do both cleaning and temperature monitoring tasks at once. 

 Randy Skyba is the vice-president of sales and marketing at Minus Forty Technologies in Georgetown, Ont. He helps retailers merchandise their frozen and refrigerated products.