All you need is lunch
When it comes to foodservice in the C&G channel, consistent quality, variety and value are what drives profitability for a demographic that continually seeks good food fast.
Lunch on the run served at your local c-store is perfectly designed to provide appropriate energy and nutrients for today’s busy consumers.
Creating an authentic foodservice program uniquely designed to meet the needs of your customers’ cravings will help increase customer interest and drive sales. Interesting food offerings paired with savvy marketing will only strengthen your c-store’s revenue.
We offer a perspective from a retailer and a foodservice provider in finding out the secret to their success when it comes to lunch in the convenience channel.
Value and variety, a great combination
A cross section of foods is particularly pleasing to customers of Tobin’s Convenience, a family owned and operated c-store located in Labrador City, Newfoundland. Brenda Tobin and her son, Trevor and their respective partners, Ed Dyke and Krissy Howell, bought the business in 2015. Brenda is the third generation of convenience store owners. As a family affair, they take pride in having the coldest beer, largest parking lot, latest hours of operation, largest selection of candy and retro products and especially their assortment of fresh, homemade food for any meal occasion.
They offer pizza, garlic fingers, nacho’s, salads, subs, sandwiches, and a variety of baked goods, fruits and vegetables – the top seller being pizza slices (a serving equates to a quarter of a 14-inch pizza), sold with a pop for six dollars.
Classic Group of Companies, through its Classic Touch Foods division, has 40 years of industry experience and offers a broad product range that includes fresh and frozen foods to customers across wholesale/retail outlets, supermarkets, convenience stores, and vending operations. Among the many choices are salads, sandwiches, pastries, prepared meals, muffins, soups, and dairy products.
“We supply a lot of grab & go wedge sandwiches, wraps, small pizzas, and salads to the C&G channel,” says Joseph Belcastro, general manager of Classic Group of Companies. “Our most popular lunch items are egg salad and chicken salad sandwiches, grilled chicken Caesar wrap, buffalo chicken wrap, margherita pizza, and grilled chicken Caesar salad.”
These lunch products, which are typically distributed through their own fleet network or by Core-Mark, range in price from $4.99 to $7.99 depending on the item.
Frozen is good, but fresh is best
“At this time, we have a full-time cook and two bakers operating daily from our kitchen and baking area,” says Tobin, emphasizing that everything is prepared inhouse, from scratch – never frozen. “We have designated counter space to showcase our products and serve food from, including a pizza warmer, grill and nacho machine.”
Their reputation for fresh in-house cooking serves them well with customers asking about product availability, whether that’s Tobin’s homemade spinach dip, taco dip, fish cakes or maple and apple sausages.
Classic Touch Foods specializes in fresh and frozen RTE (ready-to-eat) and RTH (ready-to-heat) handcrafted food products using local ingredients, delivered fresh across Canada within 24-48 hours.
“We have found that a lot of consumers are looking for a one-stop solution to their needs. They don’t want to make two or three stops on their way home to pick up gas, groceries, hot foods, and snacks,” says Belcastro. “C-stores have a real opportunity to capitalize on fresh food so long as they can remain consistent and committed. Hot grab-and-go foods are becoming more popular (a lot like 7-Eleven in the US) and there’s a huge opportunity to bring in more selection to accommodate different consumer needs.”
Promotion, the language of marketing
The pandemic may have affected fresh food sales with a lot less people commuting or travelling, but it did create greater awareness of a c-store’s offering of fresh foodservice as a viable alternative to quick serve restaurants. With the right level of promotion, c-stores can continue to strengthen their reputation as a foodservice destination.
“We find that a lot of consumers simply don’t know how many fresh options are available to them at their local c-store. Promotion from the store is one of the biggest keys to a successful fresh food program,” says Belcastro. In addition to food offerings, Classic Group is available to help clients with promotions, food handling education, seminars for staff, and plan-o-gram implementation. He also encourages retailers to pay attention to designated coolers in an effort to keep food fresh, visually appealing, and safe from any spoilage if mishandled. His advice: “If a customer grabs something, moves it, but does not buy it, then move it back into place. Fresh food is delicate and always needs to be kept refrigerated. Re-organize your cooler periodically throughout the day to help push products forward and maintain great presentation. Waste with fresh food is inevitable, but you can limit waste by presenting well and promoting sales.”
Tobin’s Convenience understands the importance of promotion. The four owners remain fully engaged in all aspects of the business with a “can-do” attitude.
Not only do they rely on the sense of sight and smell through visual displays and in-house cooking and baking aromas during peak times to entice spontaneous sales, but they’re also active on social media to encourage intentional store visits and foodservice purchases. With over 3,000 likes and followers on Facebook, the Tobin’s Convenience team actively engage with customers with an average of two to three posts a week – ranging from fresh food promotion and product availability to lottery news and customer announcements.
“We try to post regularly and respond to customer comments promptly,” says Tobin. “We post photos of our homecooked foods, like sausages and prepared dips, to let customers know these fresh items are ready and available for purchase. We also support our local Lions Club by selling their 50/50 draw tickets and promote the monthly winner on our Facebook page. This helps show we’re community-minded.”
Customer service for the win
“We aim to please not one but all, in having our customers enjoy their shopping experience,” says Tobin, who’s in the process of expanding the store’s footprint with an additional 1,400 sq ft to the existing building. The extra space will accommodate a full grocery area, take-out counter, coffee and soft service area and a hot food table. “Our customers are our number one priority and our amazing staff, along with our great products, great prices and the fact we go above and beyond to accommodate our customers, is what keeps them coming back.”
When Tobin says they go above and beyond, she’s not kidding. If they’re out of stock of a particular item, they’ll find a way to offer it, even a sampling size, to tie the customer over until inventory arrives. From a cup of sugar and a handful of tea bags to a freshly made sandwich while they wait, Tobin believes this level of customer service puts them sky high above their competitors.
“Small, simple, and considerate acts of kindness go a long way,” says Tobin. “That, combined with consistently good food, valued right and promoted promptly, is what makes us successful.”
Meline Beach is a Toronto-based communications practitioner and frequent contributor to Convenience & Carwash Canada. In addition to freelance writing, Meline provides communications and public relations support to businesses across Canada. She can be reached at www.mlbcomms.ca.