The Freshness Paradox

Published in CSP Daily News

Identifying the core challenges and opportunities of c-store foodservice

By  Abbie Westra, Editor-in-Chief, Convenience Store Products

CHICAGO -- Freshness. A very simple concept that's very difficult to execute, especially for convenience store retailers. It was one of the most mentioned words during all the sessions at this year's Foodservice at Retail Exchange (FARE), held this week in Chicago. And it turned into the crucial theme that the panelists of the "Mining for Gold in the C-store Channel" session sought to solve.

Behind that one-word mission lie many actions: calculating waste, communicating your message, ensuring food safety, inducing trial and, in the end, becoming a foodservice destination.[image-nocss]

Waste continues to be a thorn in the side of c-store foodservice, as a percentage of waste comes with conveying freshness through abundant merchandising. "It's something we talk about every day," said panelist Bob Derian, director of foodservice for Atlanta-based RaceTrac Petroleum. "If you want to reduce spoils by putting out less food, you're going to reduce sales. Instead, you have to control spoils by keeping an eye on it."

One way to ease waste for RaceTrac was to reduce the number of foodservice products that were delivered frozen. Derian then replaced those products with fresh-food SKUs, which require quicker turnover. Not only did the adjustment increase food turnover, but it also better aided limited-time offers.

For Michael Sherlock, director of foodservice at Wawa, communicating those freshness cues is a constant exercise. While the Wawa, Pa.-based retailer has a strong foodservice reputation in its existing markets, it nonetheless struggles to reach such acceptance when it moves into new regions. The company does that, explained Sherlock, by getting the customer in the store with traditional c-store items such as fountain beverages, and then driving the foodservice message once they enter the store.

[Pictured (left to right): Angel Abcede, Danielle Limbers, Bob Derian, Michael Sherlock.]Another pain point all three panelists agreed the industry needs to do a better job with is food safety. "[It's like driving] 55 miles per hour in a school zone, and sooner or later you're going to get caught," said Derian, who added that even programs with little to no food prep need to have strict standards and protocol in place.

For Power Mart, with three locations in the Chicagoland area, deli/foodservice manager Danielle Limbers explained that always ensuring equipment is functioning in compliance with food-safety regulations. That includes proper temperatures on the stores numbers types of hot and cold food display cases.

At Wawa, store-level food safety training includes computer-based training, as well as requirements for vendors and distributors.

As competition continues to heat up between c-stores and QSRs, creating a point of differentiation is crucial. Limbers has found success highlighting regional Chicago foods such as Italian beef and pizza. She also suggested retailers sample at the right times to induce trial. "As soon as our pumps are full, we go out with trays of food," she said.

"For us, it was about research. Learning who your customer is and what drives them," said Sherlock. He asks vendors to supply him with key data, and conducts focus groups and intercepts.

Yet in the struggle to succeed with freshness, all three panelists agreed that one cannot lose sight of what your company is: a convenience retailer. Sherlock explained how Wawa was trying to compete with QSRs on bundling and combo meals. While a QSR has the advantage of delivering all the items of a combo mealsandwich, drink, sidein one place in the store, the c-store's point of differentiation is the hundreds of drink options and the countless sides. So instead of worrying about making it a one-stop interaction, the chain created synergies across the store through signage.

"It's all about convenience," added Darien. "You cannot lose that."

By Abbie Westra, Editor-in-Chief, Convenience Store Products
View More Articles By Abbie Westra