Roll Call

Use these tips to heat up your roller-grill program.

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

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Let’s take a test. Are you a leftbrain or right-brain thinker? OK, now how do you run your roller grill?

Like a foodservice program, with recipe cards, theoretical food costs and waste goals? Or do you run it like a retail category, with plan-o-grams, basic margins and SKU rationalization? Like the two sides of your brain, both foodservice and retail schools of thought are important, and both are crucial to the success of a roller-grill program. After being asked by many industry members over the years whether there is an optimal roller-grill set, we decided to find out. And while it’s unfortunate that there’s no magic equation, what we found was a basic road map for building an ideal program.

Plan-o-gram the Roller Grill

Although an individual store’s roller grill is going to depend greatly on space allotted, grill size and traffic, there are benchmarks to keep in mind.

Catherine Porter, senior manager of convenience store marketing for Sara Lee Foodservice, Downers Grove, Ill., recommends operators with a smaller grill start with no more than three hot-dog or smoked-sausage items, plus an ethnic offer. Too many products, she says, leads to double-stacking without complete horizontal rows of a SKU, “and that gets really hard for the consumer to navigate around the grill tags without knocking stuff over.”

Also, a SKU-squeezed grill doesn’t allow for adequately stocking each flavor. “If you’re trying to pack that grill with six flavors, you’re always going to be down to one of something, and then you’re guaranteed you’re never going to sell another one of that poor little one,” Porter says.

As for limited-time offers (LTO), Porter recommends one at a time to help expand a consumer’s reach without creating confusion. And have the LTO item on the roller grill all day long, so customers seeing any in-store signage won’t be disappointed that it’s not available.

Johnsonville Sausage, Sheboygan Falls, Wis., last summer launched a website with calculators for operators to get a baseline idea on plan-o-grams and profit scenarios ( www.cstore.johnsonville. com). Gene Rech, director of foodservice sales for Johnsonville, stresses that it all depends on the operation; nonetheless, the site offers a good sales baseline of five links per SKU per day for low-volume stores, and 12 links per SKU per day for high-volume stores.

“But the key after that is how they [track] at the store level,” he says, encouraging scorecards and build-to sheets to track how many items were displayed, sold and tossed during each shift.

As for SKUs, Rech recommends a hotdog product, a bratwurst/sausage item and an enrobed product such as a taquito or eggroll, as well as a quarterly LTO to keep things fresh.

Brad Duesler, president and CEO of Food Concepts Inc., Middleton, Wis., recommends offering more than one flavor per protein category (“It’s good to have an A and a B”) and at least one enrobed item.

Day-parts can mean something different on the roller grill, and operators should pay attention to what’s really selling at each meal. “Less than half of hot dogs are sold during the 10 a.m.- to-2 p.m. time frame, and almost 30% are sold during the p.m. commute,” says Sara Lee’s Porter. “It’s really important to make sure you have a full grill throughout the day—and breakfast items sell as much in breakfast as in the p.m.”

Ruiz Foods, Dinuba, Calif., which manufactures enrobed products such as Tornados, has a grill management form to help retailers determine which flavors generate the most profit in each daypart. The company recommends building sales with two-for specials such as a Tornado and a coffee or cold drink, and highlighting a new flavor every month.

Waste Not, Sell Not

Once you’ve created a baseline plan-ogram for the roller grill, it’s time to start following some foodservice fundamentals. Before a single sausage starts rolling, create a recipe cost card for each item that details its cost, including condiments, packaging and bun. This will provide a good theoretical cost (the expectation of what a food cost should be, if you comply with all cost-control procedures) to help track sales and even find additional opportunities. (See sidebar on p. 94.)

“We’ve had really good success with chains that actually generated millions of dollars in incremental profit through good menu modeling on their costs and average prices,” says Duesler.

He offers the example of a roller-grill program with an eight-to-one (eight links per pound) hot dog that sells for 99 cents, or two for $2. To grow check averages, an operator could try a five-to-one for $1.29 (on discount) to $1.79 (with condiments).

“What happens is, people come in and see the eight-to-one compared to the fiveto- one, they are comparatively appealed by the five-to-one, and you start increasing your check averages,” he says.

Of course, with the foodservice mindset comes waste. And just as most retailers will not divulge their waste percentage, nor will most manufacturers offer a suggestion. Sara Lee’s Porter does recommend a simple tool: If your shrink is going down, try putting some more on the grill and see if your sales start going up.

In essence, remember that some waste is necessary. “Make sure you’re not managing your shrink at the expense of your sales potential,” she says.

Duesler concurs: “You can manage yourself right into some pretty low sales and pretty bad presentation.” For operators just starting out with a roller grill, or those hoping to revitalize the category, create a six-month or one-year commitment in which a certain amount of waste will be permitted, no matter what.

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