Chicken – A bird’s eye view to poultry success
By Meline Beach
Protein is a vital component of any diet and supports our muscles, immune system and brain. Chicken is one of the most obvious sources of dietary protein and seems to be a popular food choice for many Canadians.
According to Statistics Canada, the weight of chicken produced increased for the ninth consecutive year to the highest value on record in 2018. This statistic supports Technomic’s findings with its 2019 Center Plate: Poultry Consumer Trend Report, in that consumers’ love for chicken wshows no signs of slowing. The report adds that the category’s growth is influenced by an operator’s ability to differentiate its chicken offerings through quality, flavour and value.
If you don’t currently offer chicken as part of your foodservice program, you may want to seriously reconsider as chicken can boost your foodservice profits beyond the roller grill.
Chicken, in its countless offerings, is readily available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in deli cases and hot tables across the chain at Rabba Fine Foods. Its wide range of chicken offerings prepared fresh in store from scratch recipes, include chicken cutlets, baked and breaded chicken pieces, hot chicken cacciatore, pulled chicken, chicken salad, and its staple hot and ready barbeque chicken.
“We have enough offerings to satisfy even the pickiest chicken fan,” says Rima Rabba, marketing manager at Rabba Fine Foods.
Chester’s, an internationally-recognized brand, serves fresh fried and hand-breaded chicken, as well as bone-in chicken and chicken tenders at its 1,300 franchised locations in c-stores across the United States and Canada. While their boneless wings and fried chicken sandwich are currently only available in the United States, their bone-in chicken is their most popular product in Canada.
Couche-Tard and Circle K stores across Canada sell a variety of prepared chicken meals, including General Tao chicken, pasta with chicken, rice and chicken, as well as chicken sandwiches, caesar chicken pita, Mexican chicken wrap and chicken caesar salad. Roller grill items include taquitos, chicken wings and chicken bites. Their packaged ready-to-eat foodservice includes chicken skewers. While the selection is broad, the offering may differ depending on size of store.
“The selection of our chicken products varies per location,” says Laurence Leroux, global communications advisor for Alimentation Couche-Tard. “Larger stores may carry all of these items while smaller stores may have a more limited selection.”
C-store operators will be able to capture a larger segment of their consumers if they tailor their chicken foodservice to their clientele. As Leroux adds, regional preferences are also considered in their store’s chicken offering.
“General Tao chicken, triangle sandwiches and chicken caesar chicken pita are very popular in Quebec,” says Leroux. “A top favourite in Canada overall has been the grilled chicken and cheddar alongside any spicy flavours that we are offering, such as buffalo ranch.”
Leroux adds that their prepared meals are unique to Couche-Tard and Circle K, developed by chefs and food consultants specifically for their stores, noting that Canadians typically prefer spicier flavouring.
“We also try to prioritize local ingredients so that providers may vary in different regions of Canada,” says Leroux. “We continue to bring options that fit the needs of our customers, such as sourcing smaller portions and healthier options.”
According to Chester’s, their c-store traffic tends to skew to men and younger consumers, but it also depends on where their c-store is located.
“A store located right off the highway will attract a lot of truck drivers who are looking for a high-quality fresh meal on the go,” says William Culpepper, vice-president of marketing at Chester’s International. “Whereas a Chester’s located in a rural area may tend to do more family meals or catering for the local community.”
From busy families to hungry students, Rabba Fine Foods caters to a wide customer base, including singles, seniors and blue and white-collared workers. The point being, its foodservice program has the capacity to satisfy a broad demographic.
For retailers concerned about offering a fresh chicken foodservice program because of the work involved, rest-assured, many suppliers will help you with your program from recipe development, and advertising to equipment selection and staff training.
A Chester’s chicken counter requires fryers and proper ventilation, as well as a three-compartment sink, refrigeration, freezer space, a service counter, menu boards, and assorted small wares.
“Operating a Chester’s requires a dedicated staff in order to maximize the potential in the program,” says Culpepper. “Chester’s offers extensive training before the grand opening and will visit locations on a regular basis after the opening to provide follow-up training and support.”
Couche-Tard’s and Circle K’s chicken items are prepared by food suppliers offsite and for that reason, very little equipment or training is required, except for food safety training for items that require onsite preparation.
“We don’t fry or cook raw chicken in our stores,” says Leroux. “The prepared meals, sandwiches and salads are stored in refrigerators and our employees receive guidelines to rotate products and check for expiry dates. The hot food items are precooked and just need to be warmed up in an oven or on the roller grill.”
Sourced and managed internally, Rabba provides its chicken foodservice offering via hot tables with cross-trained and dedicated staff to manage both the convenience side and the foodservice sections.
The smell of fresh fried chicken will capture every customer’s attention – in store and at the gas pump. The best form of promotion is one that leverages our senses – especially sight, smell and taste. Chicken is a comfort food that appeals to the masses in many forms. Be sure to leverage appropriate signage, menus and social media to draw attention to your foodservice program. If you get your chicken done right, word-of-mouth will work wonders as consumers often rely on influencers and recommendations in making a purchase.
As younger generations feel an increased level of satisfaction purchasing ready-to-eat meals from c-stores, retail owners and operators need to respond accordingly in order to secure their share of sales. Studies indicate that millennials in particular visit c-stores at least once a week and that consumers in general want ready-to-eat foods that are kept warm on display as either a planned or impulse purchase. Whether it’s considered a snack or a meal, c-stores need to emphasize quality, customer service and cleanliness in order to capitalize on this trend.
Meline Beach is a Toronto-based communications practitioner and frequent contributor to Convenience & Carwash Canada. In addition to freelance writing, she provides communications and public relations support to businesses across Canada. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org