By Meline Beach
Strategic and determined, many C&G retailers have solidified their position as a one-stop-shop for all things convenience – including the dinner occasion, by offering a wider selection of healthier and heartier meal options. An inhouse foodservice program, be it a branded partnership, an independent managed menu, a self-serve option or frozen entrees, encourages customers to make the most of their stop and promote cross-pollination between fuel, convenience items and food sales.
Parkland, a leading fuel and convenience store operator, with its’ On the Run brand, offers a variety of foodservice options for customers across its network. From A&W, McDonald’s, and Tim Hortons to most recently, Triple O’s, Parkland recognizes the value of a strategic partnership with a recognizable and credible food brand to attract loyal customers.
Its partnership with British Columbia based Triple O’s, is an exclusive arrangement with Parkland’s On the Run brand.
“When Parkland acquired the Chevron business in Canada, more than 20 of its locations included a Triple O’s quick serve restaurant,” says Eli Mail, vice-president merchandising and store design. “We’re thrilled to take convenience to the next level, enhance our customer offering and expand the Triple O’s brand with our On the Run locations in Alberta and Ontario.”
Triple O’s, known for its burgers (with their signature Triple “O” sauce), fries and shakes, has an expansive menu of local ingredients. From Canadian dairy to locally raised proteins and farmed produce, Triple O’s offers quality foods in both QSR and grab-and-go options.
A snapshot of its custom order menu features 100 per cent fresh Canadian beef and chicken burgers, poutine, regular and sweet potato fries, onion rings, pickle chips, chicken tenders, veggie and plant-based burgers, Caesar salad, breakfast wrap and shakes.
While every location will have a different customer profile, Mail says that the Triple O’s partnership gives customers another powerful reason to stop at a Parkland location, while encouraging cross-pollination in sales across other parts of the store.
Beyond flawless execution of the foodservice program itself, the key to foodservice success, according to Mail, is to look at each site from a customer’s perspective. Every area of the station and store needs to be clean, well lit and foster a fresh environment, including bathrooms and gas bars.
“We plan to open several of these locations in the next two years at Ontario Parkland sites,” says Mail, who believes that foodservice will play a bigger role in the C&G channel going forward. “Customers can come in for breakfast, lunch and dinner and anything in between – drive-thru, walk-in, curbside and eventually eat in and truly make the most of every stop.”
Wilsons Gas Stop and Go Stores have experienced great success with its inhouse foodservice program and proprietary brand, Go Cuisine and Peppereka. Based out of Atlantic Canada, all 80 stations have Go Store convenience stores – 37 of which feature their Go Cuisine brand, known for fast, fresh, and delicious food on the go, including, sandwiches, subs, wraps, salads, snacks, and pie slice – the most popular being chicken salad sandwich, ham and cheese sandwich and Donair pitas. Customers can purchase dinner for $4 to $10.
The company owns and operates two commissaries based on a hub and spoke design that supports locations surrounding Halifax, Nova Scotia and Moncton, New Brunswick.
According to Dean Madill, food services manager at Wilsons, to minimize waste, inventory par levels are constantly updated to factor in seasonality, trends, and demand.
“The Go Cuisine is a consistent offer that is made daily and shipped six days a week,” says Madill. “The Peppereka brand is a standalone QSR that features fresh made subs, sandwiches, wraps, salads, pizza, warm bowls and daily comfort food specials, such as turkey dinner and shepherds’ pie.
In terms of promotion, Wilsons leverages the “full gambit” – radio, billboard, buses, a-frame signs, social media, and in-store advertising. The company’s Go Cuisine has its own Facebook page with over 100 followers, while Peppereka has a website.
Advice to C&G retailers who are considering launching a foodservice program, according to Madill: “Research your demographics.”
Researching their target market is exactly what John Douang and Marie Yong did when they launched Aisle 24 in 2016. The 24/7 cashier-less, self-serve c-store concept offers customers easy access to fresh and convenient food, beverages, and other essentials. Items are sourced by main suppliers and distributors, with a focus on local, that vary depending on location and customer demographic.
Its FEAST branded foodservice menu features a variety of premium salads and hearty sandwiches, including roasted chicken and red peppers, roast beef, roasted vegetable and herb-roasted chicken and coleslaw – at competitive c-store pricing. Of its foodservice offering in the dinner category, Jamaican patties and eggs are the company’s top selling items.
Known to occupy a small footprint of 300 to 1,800 sq. ft, Aisle 24 is best suited in both community markets and residential spaces, such as condominiums, apartment buildings and university and college campuses.
Based on a franchise model, Douang plans to launch an additional 14 stores in Canada this year, primarily in Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec. Its main attractive features are quality food, low maintenance and low labour costs, using mobile app-technology to unlock the doors, create an account and shop.
“People want food and goods immediately,” says Douang. “Using smart technology and digital displays, we manage inventory and communicate directly with our customers in notifying them of various promotions to help drive sales.”
When a branded partnership or a sophisticated instore foodservice program is not an option, freshly frozen quality entrees can attract customers just as well. That has been Toni Holley’s experience with her new Yours Conveniently specialty shop.
A c-store for numerous years, Holley rebranded the concept to a specialty shop and opened the doors in May 2021. While the store has a small kitchenette, used to bake muffins, scones, croissants and bars, their well-recognized frozen savoury pies and pizzas, along with their white label prepared entrees, from a Toronto-based commissary, have earned them a positive reputation in a short amount of time.
For $10 to $16, customers can purchase freshly made frozen lasagna, cannelloni, chicken parmesan and eggplant parmesan – one size which feeds two to four people. Holley also stocks up on Pie Commission single serve savoury pies and General Assembly pizza – two highly recognizable brands that drive traffic with a loyal customer base. Pie Commission comes in nine varieties, with braised beef as her most popular flavour.
While Holley is comfortable with the amount of production involved in her current foodservice offering, she has plans to evolve in due course. This includes a seating area, when permitted, and Uber Eats delivery services. Through social media, in-store signage, website and word-of-mouth advertising, Holley is determined to establish Yours Conveniently as a destination c-store. Her foodservice target market consists of young professionals, young families, boomer couples and those who live local to the store.
In terms of advice for C&G retailers looking to launch a foodservice program, she says, “Trust your instincts, listen to your customers and give it a try. Success will reveal itself within a couple of months if it was the right way to go.”
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