Skip to main content

North Sun Energy's Orangestore elevates its foodservice

Café Orange rebrand turns North Sun Energy’s forecourt customers into foodies.
Cafe Orange Exterior Forecourt and Pumps

Fuel sites with c-stores have elevated and diversified their foodservice. However, in the excitement of adding freshly prepared new food and drink, a staple of the gas station has seemingly been left behind: the hot dog. Rotating on heated rollers that look like from a bygone era, the frank and bun has become boring and tired. While it remains a fixture of c-store chain menus, the attention-getters are now pizza, nachos, taquitos (taco rolls), chicken fingers, empanadas, sandwiches and wraps, and other new-to-the-category additions.

But Orangestore—a chain of convenience stores in eastern Canada operated by St. John’s-based North Sun Energy, the corporate entity formed in April from a strategic partnership between North Atlantic’s 55 retail fuel sites, including 24 Orangestore locations, in Newfoundland and Labrador and Suncor Energy’s retail fuel business—has given the hotdog a modern makeover. Last year, Café Orange, Orangestore’s fresh food on-the-go concept, introduced a new menu “innovation”: a cheeseburger dog.

 A blend of beef and turkey stuffed with cheddar cheese, it’s become one of the most popular items on the Café Orange menu. In fact, year-to-date sales are up 105% on hot dogs. “A lightbulb moment for me during the whole menu testing process was the hot dog,” says Sandy Mercer, who was recently promoted to director of marketing (from marketing manager) at North Sun Energy’. “In our market, there is no fast-food operator who does hot dogs in a really big way, and so it’s become a corner of the market that has become a USP—unique selling point—for us.”

 A cheeseburger hot dog is part of what the North Sun Energy team calls “Café Orange 2.0.” North Atlantic first introduced the brand in Orangestore locations in 2008 and the rollout of 2.0 in June 2022 came after an intensive six-month process to revitalize Café Orange. All 24 locations of the foodservice area underwent renovations with bright new signage, wall decals and video screen menu boards. The revamped menu also includes chili cheese nachos, chicken roller bites and a premium line of sandwiches branded “Primo,” including a Chipotle pulled pork sandwich, a chicken carbonara sub sandwich and a cran-tastic turkey sandwich (cranberries are baked into the bread).

Still, it’s the cheeseburger dog that has been the welcome surprise. “It shocked me to realize how many people love hot dogs,” says Mercer. “A few of our sites were already doing well in terms of hotdog sales, but the cheeseburger dog has made the category more exciting and dynamic.”

And North Sun Energy COO Gordon Kennedy, who was COO at North Atlantic, says you’d be surprised by its wide appeal. “It’s not just young people buying the cheeseburger dog, but older generations,” he says, including millennials and gen X.

Advertisement - article continues below
Orangestore Cafe Orange Interior
Marketing at the forecourt

The refreshed menu has allowed Café Orange to inject some fun into its advertising, with radio spots, signage and social media posts telling consumers they never have to pick between a cheeseburger and hot dog ever again. The forecourt includes branding and signage, like pump toppers, nozzle talkers as well as digital signage. “Every Orangestore is at a fuel site, and everything we see in retail is that customers are pressed for time, and so we wanted to let them know we have a one-stop solution for mealtime when they stop to fuel,” says Kennedy. “We also already had a lot of fuel customers coming into our convenience stores for things like lottery, and so the more we can offer inside, the more a gas station site can be that one-stop convenience for customers.”

Working with Curbex on digital outdoor signage at each site, in addition to various billboards in St. John’s metro area, foodservice messaging is also front and centre at EV charging stations. “The rollout of EV in Newfoundland has not been as robust as the rest of the country, but we do have a number of sites with EV charging, and when these drivers are there, we have a captive audience for the 20 minutes or so while their vehicle is charging,” says Kennedy. “And so, we’ve put menu boards outside charging stations to show the food offers inside the store so that people know they don’t just have to sit inside their car and watch Netflix. They can go inside and get themselves a tasty sandwich or a roller grilled treat.”

North Sun Energy doesn’t have the marketing budget for TV campaigns, but the forecourt signage along with the radio spots has proven cost-effective. “It’s a marketing medium that has proved very successful in driving awareness of our grab-and-go concept and our entire food service category,” says Mercer, who previously ran her own marketing communications agency before joining North Atlantic in summer 2021. She also has a strong background in retail and shopping mall marketing, working in Dubai, Toronto and St. John’s for the likes of Nakheel Properties, RioCan and Ivanhoé Cambridge.

“It’s really about ensuring we’re grabbing people’s attention while they’re filling up and driving by—just kind of stopping them in their tracks,” she says.

While keeping specific sales results close to their chest, Kennedy says he is pleased by the reception. “I expected our new foodservice to be successful, but I sort of underestimated how successful it would be and how many people would take to purchasing food at our sites,” he says. “But then again, we’re not a typical gas station. Our Orangestores are a step above when it comes to design, marketing and merchandising, and was always a strong brand that attracted people.”

Mercer and Kennedy—along with Shannon Brown, foodservice and merchandising manager, who joined North Atlantic in November 2022 from Wilson Fuel Co. and now part of the North Sun Energy team—are already thinking about Café Orange 3.0. “Sandy and I have already talked about it,” says Kennedy. “We have a whole plan for the next foodservice launch, but we wanted to make sure that this was successful and well-integrated before we layered new things onto our sites. We want to be careful because you can overwhelm your operators and their staff.”

Besides, Mercer adds that customers are still taking in all the new changes—and eating them up! “While we might be a little bored with some of the new menu items, the market has only been seeing them for about 12 to 16 months now. But we do have a plan for the next phase.”

Loyalty program drives food sales

To help drive engagement, trial and sales of Café Orange’s menu items, Orangestore has tapped into its hugely successful loyalty rewards program, YAY! 

Customers are given two key fobs with their membership card, earn points on fuel and Orangestore purchases, and can redeem those points equal up to 2% off their total spend.

With nine colours to choose from, members also get to earn double their points when their colour of the week is selected. Other perks for YAY! members include giveaways for fun experiences like concerts, sporting events and trips.

The brand communicates with YAY! members via email, social media, and also POS advertising and forecourt signage.

With more than 100,000 active members, membership continues to grow given the strong reception of Café Orange's refresh. "We have a pretty significant membership base considering Newfoundland has a population of around 520,000. That basically equates to almost 50% of households with a YAY! membership,” says Mercer, confirming that “plans are underway to create exclusive Café Orange offers to YAY! members.”  

North Sun Energy has found YAY! members visit the gas stations and Orangestores more frequently and have larger basket sizes than non-members. “They come into our stores on a consistent basis, at least multiple times a month,” says Kennedy. “They are a key audience of our foodservice offering.”

Advertisement - article continues below
This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds