Four steps to make your c-store a foodservice destination



Customization, freshness and bold flavors — these are qualities that an increasing number of consumers, particularly younger ones who have growing buying power, say they most want in the food they buy from convenience stores and other foodservice operators.

This makes a strong case for offering made-to-order foodservice programs, but some existing c-stores don't have the in-store space to fit a full made-to-order program, while other c-stores might not be able to support or staff one based on the local market.

C-store retailers without made-to-order foodservice programs are not doomed to fail; they can still be competitive — if they invest in and execute high-quality grab-and-go programs.

Even chains that do lean in hard on made-to-order are leaving money on the table if they do not maintain a grab-and-go offering and put effort into keeping it strong.

Here are four ways to make a grab-and-go foodservice program shine:


Customization gives customers the opportunity to get "what I want, how I want it" — but what many want is simply to get in and out as quickly as possible.

"I think that speed trumps customization," said Paul Servais, retail foodservice director at Kwik Trip Inc. He noted that while the La Crosse, Wis.-based chain still offers some self-serve customization options, such as its sandwich toppings bar, the lack of full-service customization has never been a deal-breaker for its customers.

Being able to make a quick food purchase is a big part of “convenience” for busy consumers who are eating more meals and snacks on the go than ever before. At certain times of the day, customers are more willing to wait as their customized order is prepared. At other times, customers may not have a choice if they have somewhere to be or a limited break from work.


Gaining customers' trust in your grab-and-go food quality is important, but just as important is making sure product is always available to buy. That means retailers must know what customers will want, and how much of it they will want, hour by hour.

At Kwik Trip, homegrown data analytics and production plans have been developed and perfected over a period of years. By calculating what is likely to sell on a particular day and at a particular time, store employees can stock the hot and cold holding cases accordingly and avoid running out or having too much of something.

Hiring smart and skilled employees can make a difference, too, as their in-store experience will allow them to gauge what their store’s specific customers will want and when.

"We found that creating as many options as you can on the hot grab-and-go and allowing stores to decide which sellers are best for them [yields good results]," said Ryan Krebs, director of foodservice at York, Pa.-based Rutter's, which has more than 85 items that could be stocked in the hot hold. "Stores can customize their offering for their consumer base."


It's not enough to just have a quality grab-and-go program at your stores. Retailers must get the word out and get customers to try it if they haven't already done so.

In addition to marketing via billboards, social media, radio or TV, there's a lot that can be done through in-store promotions and loyalty program deals.

"The largest opportunity is to take advantage of the opportunities once the guest is already on-site — inside or outside," said Jeff Keune, senior vice president of foodservice and innovation at West Des Moines, Iowa-based Yesway. "We take a lot of time to develop the engagement points in the shopper cycle."

Loyalty program deals and regular discount days on specific foodservice items can encourage customers to return and make repeat grab-and-go purchases.

"Loyalty is a fantastic and impactful tool to drive frequent users to visit even more often (for the food), as well as encourage new behaviors through cross-selling and innovation," Keune said.


Limited-time offerings (LTO) can be used to create buzz and encourage trial, but a schedule is important. Retailers should know in advance how long a LTO will run, and have a long-term plan in mind for its rate of new ones. For example, Kwik Trip does LTOs quarterly.

By offering regular LTOs — particularly those based on seasons, events or holidays — c-store operators can prompt their customers to look forward to something new, and capitalize on the sense that they need to get it before it's gone.

LTOs can work against a program, though, if they detract from the consistency that consumers demand, industry experts caution.

Originally published at Convenience Store News. 

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