Consuming Thoughts

Plenty of ideas from the QSR, fast-casual playbooks are there for the stealing.

By
Amanda Baltazar, Freelance writer

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Innovative Drinks

Convenience-store retailers who don’t have an exciting beverage program are missing out. According to Mintel’s study, 87% of consumers say they’re interested in cold drinks in c-stores.

Starbucks has already jumped on this bandwagon with its Evolution Fresh juices, which are fruit and vegetable blends such as Sweet Greens and Lemon. Other chains are doing their own beverages, such as Sonic, which is dishing up a peanut-butter-and-bacon milkshake, and Dairy Queen, whose s’mores frozen hot chocolate is a big seller.

Beverages are filling a need with the amount of snacking we do these days, especially because they’re so portable, Gallo-Torres points out: “They can also be a way to separate yourself from the competition—look at 7-Eleven’s Big Gulp and Slurpee.”

“Innovation is very important with beverages,” says Wawa’s Sherlock. “We compete with Starbucks, McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, regional convenience store players, as well as with packaged beverages. Beverages stand across all day-parts, so it’s a big opportunity and a big area of growth.”

Coffee programs can also be popular, says David Morris, managing consultant for market research company Packaged Facts. “The catch-22 is clearly the price point. Convenience stores could maybe experiment with co-branding so they can use brand awareness to help with perceptions of quality.”

Moe’s has been offering huge variety in its drinks selection since it started using Coca-Cola’s Freestyle machine two years ago, and it’s about to take things to the next level. It is working on a proprietary beverage, Vanilla at Peachtree, which will be available from the machine and will pair well with its Southwestern food.

“People want to customize,” says Macaluso of Moe’s. “And this is an interesting way for us to make drinks new and cool. We have a core beverage menu that people love, but a certain group of consumers wants to try new things.”

Steal This Idea: Bring in a brand to help you with dispensed or packaged beverages. The brand can provide the ideas and will already have consumers’ trust.

Customizable Food

Perhaps a reflection of the self-sovereign world of social media and online buying, today’s consumers are used to getting what they want—even in foodservice.

“Individualization and customization are the driving factors of foodservice,” says Johnson of Foodservice Solutions. “When you empower customer choice, you drive sales and loyalty. They’ll pay extra to wait in line. And, there’s another advantage in waiting: They might find something else they want to buy.”

Burger-and-fries concept Mooyah, Plano, Texas, is all about customization. In fact, a company tenet is “a million ways to love your burger.” Customers can choose the burger, the bun, the toppings and the additions.

“It gives guests the ability to really see what’s available and [for them] to play a chef,” says Alexis Barnett Gillette, director of marketing. “People really want the ability to do things their way and they’re more likely to engage with us, and more often. By having a lot of options, we are more approachable.”

Truckstop chain Pilot Flying J, based in Knoxville, Tenn., uses its combo meals to give customers options and will emphasize “Make It a Meal” in 2014. Customers can create their own breakfast (eggs, meat and a side) or dinner (roast chicken and two sides) combo for $7 to $9.

A c-store chain that’s already way ahead with customization is Wawa. Its stores have touch-screen POS terminals where customers build their own sandwich, hoagie or breakfast sandwich.

“You can order any sandwich, and then it prints out a slip; you can go shop while it’s being made,” Sherlock says. “There are also upsells, so at certain times of the year customers can add a soup or a side of mac ‘n cheese or a warm chocolate chip cookie for a special combo price.”

Steal This Idea: Let customers create their own meals, sandwiches or drinks so they feel in control.

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