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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With foodservice becoming more entrenched in c-stores’ retailing repertoire, we looked at some of the distinguishing factors driving growth for both quick-service restaurants (QSRs) and casual-dining establishments that may also work for you.

Limited-Time Offers (LTOs)

Limited-time offers—known as LTOs—are an essential weapon in QSRs’ arsenal. By dishing up meals available for a short period of time, these restaurants are creating “wow” factors and a sense of urgency and surprise.

San Diego-based Burger Lounge offers LTOs almost constantly. “One usually comes right after the other to keep things exciting,” says marketing director Robert Lane. The concept has offered boar, bison and elk burgers, as well as corn dogs and roasted corn. “You want to pick the right LTOs so you aren’t left with product, but if the minimums [for us to buy] are too high, it’s something we probably won’t carry.

Steven Johnson, grocerant guru for Tacoma, Wash.-based Foodservice Solutions, says, “LTOs drive freshness perception, especially if you do them seasonally.”

“Part of the appeal for an LTO is it’s only available for a short period of time,” he continues. “Never run an LTO over six weeks, but preferably for more than three weeks to give people time to come in and come back.”

Tampa, Fla.-based Checkers runs LTOs for four to six weeks, says senior vice president and CMO Terri Snyder: “It can get you an incremental sale because customers often come back a second time.”

The freshness aspect of LTOs can really help. In April, Chicago-based market research company Mintel published a study, Convenience Store Foodservice-U.S., that showed that 38% of consumers would like to see higher-quality offerings at convenience stores. LTOs can help change the perception that food is not fresh in c-stores, says Julia Gallo-Torres, author of the report and Mintel’s category manager for foodservice.

“LTOs help keep the offer fresh and gives our usual customer another choice,” says Mike Sherlock, vice president of fresh food and beverage for Wawa, Pa.-based Wawa Inc. “You’ve built trust and credibility with your existing offer, and it’s easier to sell a new variety than trying to get another customer who’s not coming to your store already.”

Steal This Idea: Periodically add something new to your menu for three to six weeks. It will likely drive traffic, and it’s a great opportunity to test new food offerings.

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