As part of Customer Loyalty Month in April, you discovered how training, marketing, hiring and service all play a role in building a base of repeat customers. The products you offer above and beyond the staples of convenience store inventory also affect customer loyalty. As fuel margins shrink and tobacco profits decline, your biggest opportunity for increased sales is with your c-store foodservice program.
The Evolution of Food in C-Stores
For years, foodservice items in convenience stores were primarily add-on sales. People came in for gas or cigarettes and grabbed a hot dog because they were there anyway. That thinking is beginning to shift. A recent Technomic report showed that more consumers are looking to c-stores as a place to get a good meal. Experts suggest that this is in part because c-stores are changing the image of their foodservice items away from “gas station food” that would make people cringe, to convenient offerings that are just as good or better as a burger from the drive-through across the street.
Pizza and hot dogs are just the beginning for foodservice in c-stores. Both are high margin items that require only a few pieces of equipment to prepare and keep warm. Most convenience stores already offer this type of food option for customers, but more and more are looking beyond the hot dog roller. Pairing up with a third party commissary is the next natural step. Working with a commissary is no different than any other supplier arrangement — both partners have to make money. To be successful, keep your expectations in check, realizing that what you save in labor you will probably give up in margin.
Fresh is Best
Where convenience stores are really making strides in the foodservice market is by offering custom, made-to-order products. Fresh ingredients, quality meats, high-end breads, and healthy options grab the attention of would-be fast food customers. Wawa’s deli program is a great example. The Pennsylvania-based company is well known for built-to-order hoagies, sandwiches, toasted wraps, flatbreads, soups and salads. For many customers, grabbing a Wawa hoagie is their main reason for visiting the store, with a meal item creating add-on sales rather than being an add on itself.
Creating Loyalty with Your Food Program
Back to that Technomic survey, consider this: Nine out of ten c-store foodservice users say the quality and taste of the food are important factors when deciding which c-store to visit. As any loyal restaurant customer knows, though, a great meal can’t save bad service. About 90 percent of those surveyed also said friendly service is critical, too.
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