By Meline Beach
Ever been told, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset?” Well, that’s not the case with today’s foodservice programs. C-stores are delivering convenient meal time solutions just the way customers want it.
Made-to-order foodservice is an opportunity to be truly customer centric in the c-store channel. Nutrition-wise, nothing is better than fresh food.
Country Style offers freshly prepared breakfast sandwiches on either bagels or English muffins, and freshly prepared sandwiches. They also have a twin concept with Country Style Mr. Sub that offers an express menu of Mr. Sub’s sub sandwiches in the c-store channel. Here, customers are encouraged to select their meats, toppings and condiments on a made-to-order basis. The location within a c-store offers greater convenience, quick and easy service.
“Speed of service is critically important for c-store foodservice. Turnaround times vary but since every item is custom made, it can take a few minutes depending on the line,” says Karen Weldman, vice president of new business development for express brands. “Our operations team is constantly working on speed of service training initiatives to ensure the customer moves through the order to prep to pick up process as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
Developing a made-to-order foodservice program can help c-stores increase sales and profit margins, and enhance their identity as a food destination, by offering customers exactly what they want, within a standard menu.
“It’s all about choices,” says Rima Rabba, marketing manager at Rabba Fine Foods. A well-rooted foodservice c-store and local market, Rabba has had made-to-order food options since its inception over 50 years ago.
“We have always been a place where customers could pick up a quick sandwich or a healthier salad – our full-hearted staff will make it to order,” says Rabba. “We also have a wide selection of offerings, including homestyle daily meals, cabbage rolls, baked salmon fillets and a variety of sides. Our stores have expanded their foodservice offering to include a wide variety of hot table items like hormone, antibiotic and cage-free whole chicken. Choice is plentiful at Rabba.”
Rabba adds: “We have vast vegan options available fresh daily. Our falafel is vegan and delicious as are many cold case salads (chickpeas, grains to raw veggies). We also have dairy-free and gluten-free offerings across all departments. We do our best to accommodate dietary requirements and tread carefully around allergens.”
Tom Hatges, senior director of foodservice at Tree of Life couldn’t agree more when it comes to meeting dietary requirements and healthy food preferences in the c-store channel. Hatges is particularly proud of the healthier foodservice options Tree of Life represents. From gluten-free, non-GMO and organic to grass-fed and plant-based, Tree of Life offers a variety of foodservice items in the c-store channel to accommodate customer requests on a made-to-order and grab and go basis.
“C-store customers are changing and so owners and operators are having to reengineer their foodservice programs to adapt to changing palates,” says Hatges. “We offer a number of natural ingredients to build out these made-to-order menus.”
Hatges is referring to natural cheese, shirataki noodles and natural guacamole – just to name a few. Products are available to the C&G channel to expand their foodservice offering to their customers.
“The Home Meal Replacement (HMR) category is growing and younger generations are looking to live healthier lifestyles,” says Hatges. “It makes sense to consider clean label, high protein, high fibre and natural ingredients to c-store customers.”
Kinnikinnick Foods, a brand represented by Tree of Life, manufactures gluten-free products for customers with allergies and food sensitivities, such as Celiac. Their products include waffles, muffins, breads and donuts, and are available to the c-store channel and serves as a value-added made-to-order option for c-store operators wishing to deliver on their customers’ needs and wants with foodservice.
Adam Vosding, a personal blogger for the Traveling Food Dude, has been traveling around North America with his dog discovering unique eateries along the way. One stop in particular that caught his attention was a gas station with a carwash and convenience store, complete with a made-to-order foodservice offering.
“As soon as I pulled up, I knew I was going to like the place,” says Vosding, of The Thumb, located in Scottsdale, Arizona. “I could smell the barbecue as I drove into the parking lot.”
Inside the convenience store was a bakery and a barbecue restaurant that featured a menu of fresh ingredients. From the chipotle aioli to the honey molasses glaze, Vosding claims the half-dozen homemade barbecue sauces were mouth-watering.
“I tried a variety of food including their house smoked pulled pork and beef brisket along with a side of collard greens, creamy baked macaroni and cheese, fresh baked cornbread, barbecue baked beans, and sweet potato fries,” says Vosding. “The staff was friendly and there was a variety of seating options inside the store, including high top seating around the convenience store section.”
With a large made-to-order menu, Vosding went back for more the next day and raved about his c-store foodservice experience in his travel blog.
Whether licensed through franchised brands or built in-house, any foodservice program is a financial commitment. However, a made-to-order option requires time, staff training, equipment and customer trust that may take years to earn.
“We take food orders every day and customers expect quick counter service,” says Rabba, who adds that delivery may be an added feature in the future. “Our foodservice offering runs from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., however, if a customer comes in during off hours and the employee working is cross-trained on our kitchen offerings, there’s a good chance the customer would be served.”
A successful made-to-order foodservice program takes quality, consistency and an astute sense of keenness in delivering your customers’ needs. All of these factors will influence perception, build loyalty and drive profitability.
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