Foodservice: In Good Health

Convenience stores strive to meet consumers’ demand for better-for-you products

By
Amanda Baltazar, Freelance writer

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“Some demographics just won’t support it,” says Calnan. “When you get down to the more blue-collar areas, it’s just not there; they’re not going to support us putting the product into the stores. The big market is urban, but also suburban, where consumers are middle-income and affluent. But I’m guessing even Bubba will pick up healthy food occasionally, in the future.”

There’s also a “better for you” section in one Tedeschi store, in New Waltham, Mass. “It’s doing pretty good and draws attention as soon as you walk in,” says Calnan. It’s a 6-foot section with 30 linear feet of space.

“Tedeschi Food Shops will be placing this section or a modified version in newly remodeled locations where the demographics prove favorable for this type of offering,” Calnan says. “It’s time to expand the offering.”

Let’s Talk

Carrying healthy doesn’t mean a store is selling healthy. Communicating a story to the customer is critical. Making customers aware that a chain has healthy foods is another part of the problem.

“Our goal is to better communicate our healthy options,” says Wawa’s Matyok. “Customers are so busy and our job is to make their lives easier.”

Wawa highlights its under-500-calorie menu on its digital signage, and once it has analyzed data on this menu, Wawa will roll out an advertising plan.

Tedeschi Food Shops promotes healthy offerings on its website and through its TGIF program. Through the latter, it offers a free item—not limited to healthy items—every Friday via a coupon on the company’s Facebook page. The healthy offerings are also incorporated into monthly in-store promotions.

“Real estate is where the marketing investment is—in high-visibility, high-access locations,” says Retail Insights’ Jacobowitz. “So there should be more signage outside the store: simple, iconic imagery denoting ‘fresh,’ to get shoppers’ attention and alert them to the new positioning.”

In addition to the messaging, pay attention to price.

“The customer is going to pay a little more for healthy foods,” says Calnan of Tedeschi. “Originally, there was a higher cost for them. But as more manufacturers put them out, the costs are coming more in line with other things. Customers are willing to pay a little more for these; it’s worth it to them.”

The costs and profit margins to the c-stores are comparable—in the 40% range, she says. “We keep them in line with all the snacks we have.”


Be Fresh With Me

The key to moving into more healthy food offerings is increasing not only the freshness of what a convenience store offers, but also consumers’ perceptions of freshness.

Technomic’s winter Convenience Store 2013 MarketBrief demonstrates that consumers feel c-stores lag behind other foodservice locations in this regard. While 85% of respondents say that offerings at fast-casual and family-style restaurants are somewhat or extremely fresh, only 52% say the same is true for c-stores—and 21% say foodservice offerings in convenience stores are less than fresh.

Despite this, 48% of consumers polled say they are now looking for fresh food options when shopping in a c-store.

Last April, Bloomington, Minn.-based Holiday Stationstores completely revamped foodservice items in its Twin Cities stores to make them healthier. Not wanting to make this change half-heartedly, the chain partnered with contract foodservice management company Taher Inc., which operates foodservice programs in locations as diverse as schools, businesses and health-care settings.

Holiday’s hope with the new program was to promote healthy, fresh and quality food.

“We put real chefs in the stores,” says Shawn Taher, vice president of operations for Taher Inc. These chefs produce green salads, wet salads (such as pasta and rice salads) and snack cups and promote them as Chef Inspired Salads “to convey the message of freshness,” Taher says.

“We focus on freshness first,” he says. “We don’t use preservatives or additives; we don’t use precooked products.”

Vital to getting this program off the ground was getting customers to try the foods. “Sampling is crux,” Taher says. “It’s really important in the food business, especially when you’re introducing something new that may draw an added customer. And it makes for an enhanced experience for the people who are already there.”

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