By Meline Beach
The local c-store has earned its place in the foodservice industry as a viable destination for quick, healthy meals on the go – from fresh fruit, flavourful salads and hot soup to a quick wrap, fried chicken, or slice of pizza. C-stores can capitalize on the foodservice market and build loyalty with a variety of options. This includes an in-house foodservice program, a co-branded partnership with other restaurants or a supply network with local commissaries.
Hot tables, ready to serve & co-branded options
Rabba Fine Foods, a family owned and operated network of 35 c-stores throughout Toronto, Ontario, takes pride in their locations being conveniently located, bright and well stocked, with 24/7 customer service. In addition to their regular product offering of flowers, health and beauty items and other typical c-store essentials, their robust in-house foodservice program includes a wide selection of market produce, butcher-cut fresh meat and seafood, ready-to-eat meals, fresh baked goods, and dairy products served at deli counters and hot food tables.
“Each of our Rabba stores cater to different dietary needs and cultural preferences across diverse neighbourhoods,” says Rima Rabba, marketing manager at Rabba Find Foods. “Between our daily made in-store salads, sandwich selection, falafels, salmon filets and BBQ chicken meals, combined with our service counter and hot table offerings, as well as grab-and-go cases, our customers have come to rely on our wide range of tasty options.”
Although Rabba doesn’t have themed meals on specific days of the week, like Taco Tuesdays, they do, however, serve a homestyle menu made fresh daily, featuring hearty beef stew, chicken cacciatore, lemon baked salmon filet on a bed or rice, cabbage rolls, meat and vegetable lasagna, or a half or quarter chicken with a side.
“Our menu satisfies our customers’ tastebuds,” says Rabba. “Our BBQ chicken meals are extremely popular, as are our daily specials and grab-and-go options.”
Rabba’s in-house foodservice program is managed through a regular cycle of prep work – across every shift, made fresh multiple times a day. However, the market’s concept and offerings have evolved over time from its humble beginnings over 40 years ago, and continues to do so today. Select Rabba locations have now adopted a co-branded option with popular QSRs such as Tim Hortons, Subway, Ah-So Sushi and Paramount Foods.
Despite the current pandemic, Rabba continues to stock its foodservice program and serve fresh, healthy meals daily for less than $10.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, amidst the chaos, the line ups, the reality of panic buying, and health and safety protocols, we never lost sight of our values centred around dependability and service,” says Rabba. “While the pandemic has encouraged people to cook at home, it’s apparent that people need healthy, fresh food. And, in circumstances when supplies were low, we worked with our partners to make sure a comparable alternative was made available. Thankfully, because of our supply chain systems and incredible staff, we will always strive to be there for our customers 24/7.”
Grab & go
When it comes to packaged sandwiches, Quality Fast Foods, located in Edmonton, Alberta has been satisfying cravings since 1977. Their lunch menu includes an assortment of subs, sandwiches, and burgers – the most popular being the 10-inch super loaded sub, featuring bologna, salami, ham, Swiss cheese, and mustard on a sesame seed bun; the 10-inch super pizza sub, featuring pepperoni, pizza sauce, and mozzarella cheese on a sesame seed bun; and, the double double cheeseburger, featuring two savoury flame broiled beef burgers topped with cheddar cheese on a sesame seed bun.
“Our Quality grab-and-go foods are wrapped in a trademarked controlled atmosphere package that minimizes spoilage and maximizes quality,” says Tyler Daskalchuk, key account manager at Quality Fast Foods. “This allows for an extensive refrigerated shelf life without the use of any additives or preservatives.”
Delivered to c-stores across Canada through direct store delivery (DSD) and central distribution warehouses, these products can be heated on location with the use of a microwave for immediate consumption or served at home.
While retail prices are set by individual stores, Quality Fast Foods’ lunch items are typically priced under $10, making it an affordable lunch option for many – especially during challenging times imposed by a global pandemic.
“Covid-19 has drastically changed customers’ patterns and behaviours when purchasing consumable products,” says Daskalchuk. “People are gravitating towards safe, ready to eat products that are satisfying and cost effective.”
On the run
Customers, who are tight on time but crave something healthy to tie them over until dinner, can rely on Berbician Royal Foods’ salamis and Snack-It meat sticks as a hearty protein. Not just any protein, these products cater to a niche tastebud for game meats, such as venison, bison, lamb, goat, Kobe style beef, and turkey – the most popular being bison and venison. These protein products do not require refrigeration and have a shelf life of one year.
Traditionally sold in grocery and specialty stores, Berbician’s salamis and Snack-It meat sticks are now available to C&G retailers across Canada through an online e-commerce website, exclusively distributed by Focus-Product.com. Conveniently packaged in single serve (approximately 25 grams per meat stick) and sold in bulk quantities, Focus-Product.com offers free shipping for orders over $150 with next-day delivery depending on location.
Based in Etobicoke, Ontario, Berbician Royal Foods is a Canadian company that prides itself on using mostly Canadian ingredients, depending on the meat (e.g., Australian venison) and Canadian manufacturing facilities. Compliant with industry safety and quality regulations, their products are largely gluten and antibiotics-free and meet traditional/religious standards that appeal to a wide demographic.
“Berbician Royal Foods’ salamis and Snack-It meat sticks are 100 per cent pork-free, Halal certified and grass-fed proteins,” says Areg Dadashyan, from Focus-Product.com. “These on-the-go proteins are perfect for students, adventurers, athletes, young adults and busy parents who want to fill a mid-day gap or crave something new to try.”
According to Dadashyan, Berbician’s salamis and Snack-It meat sticks offer retailers a 40 per cent profit margin from its suggested retail price of $12 for a case of individually packaged salami sticks and $2.49 plus tax for each Snack-it meat sticks, packed in a case of 25 units.
In addition to a high profit margin, Dadashyan states that Focus-Product.com, with Berbician Royal Foods, also offers marketing and merchandising support, including sampling, counter displays, floor stands and bundling options to help drive sales.
The impact of a pandemic
According to Chicago-based Foodservice IP, convenience retail’s foodservice sales declined an estimated 8.6 per cent in 2020 with prepared foods down 13 per cent. This was undoubtedly a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, but its impact was not uniform as business restrictions, public concerns, and other factors varied widely across the country.
According to Frank Beard, co-host of the In-Convenience Podcast, the pandemic’s impact also varied depending on the types of communities and customers served by C&G retailers.
“A retailer who relied on office workers who shifted to remote working arrangements would struggle with lunch sales in a way that might not be felt by a location that served rural communities,” says Beard. “Similarly, retailers who sold a more basic menu to fuel customers, relying primarily on the trigger of impulse, would be impacted more than a retailer who had nurtured a powerful foodservice identity capable of convincing customers to drive to their store or order through delivery.”
Beard believes that the ability of motor fuels to drive traffic to the store will likely decline in the coming decade, and that retailers will be tasked with figuring out new ways to convince customers to visit their stores. For many, the answer will be found through foodservice.
There is profitability potential to be realized with an effective foodservice program – be it in-house, co-branded, partnered with a commissary or a variety of grab-and-go options. While foodservice is not a one size fits all approach, the key is to be consistent, keep preparation easy with recognizable and popular food items, ensure friendly service and a clean and inviting environment. As with any meal occasion, lunch matters.
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.