SPECIAL Occasions and Holidays

By Meline Beach

How to celebrate and profit through strategic foodservice

You’re never too old to celebrate the range of holidays and special occasions recognized throughout the year. Each one offers a big opportunity for C&G foodservice. Not only does it create revenue potential, but it also helps build customer loyalty. Convenience & Carwash Canada spoke with the following three C&G retailers on how they leverage the holidays and special occasions to enhance foodservice sales:

Leslieville PumpsLocated at 292 Queen Street East in Toronto, ON, Leslieville Pumps General Store & Kitchen is co-owned and operated by brothers Judson and Greg Flom. Previously a Country Style, the two renovated and reinvented the store with gas pumps eight years ago to give it an old, southern small-town feel, complete with an authentic foodservice offering with limited indoor/outdoor seating. Open 24 hours, prepared meals are available as take-out from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., after which is available via steam tables.

Pointe Au Baril Shell StationLocated along the Trans Canada Highway near the east coast of Georgian Bay, this gas station features a complete c-store with a small dining-in foodservice program. Restaurant manager Lynne Beaudry has been cooking up a storm for 21 years. Privately owned and operated, this station is a popular stop for food, fuel and sunglasses for cottage goers.

Country StyleAs an iconic Canadian foodservice brand since 1963, known for its coffee and premium donuts, Country Style also serves a variety of soups, sandwiches and salads across its traditional and express network. Vice president of new business development for express brands, Karen Weldman has seen this category evolve across her 22 years of industry experience. To date, Country Style has over 400 express kiosks across Canada with programs designed specifically for the C&G channel.

 Which holidays and occasions do you typically celebrate at your location?

Judson Flom: We mostly celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and Canada Day.

Lynne Beaudry: We typically celebrate Thanksgiving, Halloween, Canada Day and Christmas.

Karen Weldman: At Country Style, the Christmas season is the holiday we place the most emphasis on. We also promote Halloween and Canada Day. Our specific offerings are for commercial holiday seasons.

 What types of food or drink do you offer customers in celebration of various holidays and special occasions?

Flom: We typically offer specially designed and decorated cookies on a stick. For example, for Canada Day, we would offer cookies in the shape of a maple leaf, decorated red and white. For Christmas, we would have cookies in the shape of snowflakes, gingerbread figures and Santa Claus. For Thanksgiving and Halloween, we would offer cookies in the shape of pumpkins.

In addition to traditional holidays, we also celebrate a number of occasions, such as the Raptors’ win with basketball shaped and decorated cookies. We sell these specially decorated cookies in single format and boxed quantities. Beyond sweets, we also offer themed meals, such as turkey with all the trimmings, including cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing and beet chips. And, nothing beats the smell of hot apple cider with cinnamon which we sell throughout the cool fall and crisp winter season.

Beaudry: While turkey is most popular during the holiday season, we serve it year-round. As a result, our special occasion and holiday-themed foodservice offering is strictly related to baked goods. In the fall, we offer pumpkin pies and gingersnap cookies. During the winter season, we offer shortbread cookies shaped as angels and Santa Claus. And in the summer around Canada Day, we offer an assortment of fresh pies, including peach, raspberry, bumbleberry and mixed berry.

Weldman: We produce customized red and white donuts for Canada Day and a special pumpkin spice muffin for Halloween. During the Christmas season, we produce a specific holiday cup and during the fall season we offer a gingerbread chai tea. However, some holiday bakery items may not be available in the express network.

 Do you in-source or out-source your holiday-themed foodservice offering?

Flom: Our southern style BBQ smokehouse food offering and holiday-themed meals are all cooked in-house. Our holiday and special occasion sugar and soft gingerbread cookies are out-sourced.

Beaudry: All of our baking is done in-house. I’ve been baking 15 of my 21 years at this c-store restaurant and our customers have come to depend on these fresh baked goods during different times of the year.

Weldman: Product is provided and baked in-house across all traditional and express locations. For example, our pumpkin muffins come in three formats: bake and decorate, scratch bake, and thaw and serve.

 How far in advance do you celebrate the holidays?

Flom: Our lead time is three weeks before and one week after every occasion. Foodservice sales spike during this period and especially two days leading up to the day.

Beaudry: We start offering these specialty food items four to six weeks in advance of each occasion.

Weldman: Our promotional items last for eight weeks.

 How else do you celebrate these occasions at your store?

Flom: We also decorate the store but don’t go overboard. We display tasteful decorations like a Christmas tree with lights and other indoor items. We also change up our outdoor planters on a seasonal basis to help create better curb appeal and invite greater foot traffic. In warmer seasons, we’ll feature a bright assortment of flowers and in winter, we’ll feature birch bark and evergreens.

Beaudry: We prepare and sell Christmas tins of our baked goods, featuring an assortment of cookies, fudge, butter tarts and mini muffins. Customers know to visit us during the holidays where they can purchase these tins of baked goods for themselves, as presents or hostess gifts.

Weldman: During the Christmas season, our stores also create customized baskets for sale. The Holiday Gift Basket Making Guide and the Visual Merchandising Guide, along with direction from our marketing department and dedicated business development manager, help locations drive sales during peak holiday periods.

 What’s the benefit of celebrating special occasions and holidays at your store?

Flom: Being located in downtown Toronto, we have a lot of competition for foodservice and gas. It’s extremely important for us to stand out from the rest with an authentic foodservice offering and great curb appeal. The special occasion and holiday-themed food items and decorations keep us personable with our customer base. The aroma of our hot apple cider during the cooler part of the year can be picked up at our gas pump. We intentionally don’t have a pay-at-the-pump feature so all patrons need to come in to conclude their purchase. The quality and aroma of our holiday food and drinks not only draws in loyal customers but it also helps drive impulse purchases.

Beaudry: We’ve established a reputation for quality, homemade baking to the point where our customers will ask about it before the season starts. Our customers have come to see us specifically for these items and appreciate the opportunity to buy an assortment as a takeaway gift.

Weldman: Franchises are encouraged to engage in our corporate social media channels and promote their themed foodservice offering through photos of their customers drinking from our holiday cups (referred to as holiday cups versus Christmas cups to ensure we are inclusive to all) and participating in our holiday gift basket giveaways. We also have our franchises complete a feedback survey at the end of every promotion to ensure they are effective and 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.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

1. Celebrate hallmark holidays and special occasions throughout the year. While Christmas is traditionally a religious holiday, it has become quite commercially known and celebrated.

2. Create an authentic and unique experience with holiday and special occasion-themed foodservice offering – from traditional meal items to fun shaped and decorated baked goods.

3. In an effort to maximize your sales opportunity, run your themed foodservice program six to eight weeks in advance and one week after each occasion.

4. Whether out-sourced or prepared in-house, nothing beats the aroma of fresh cooked or baked goods to build a loyal customer base and entice impulse purchases.

5. Create a persona and offer customers a pleasant experience with your themed foodservice program. Your reputation will draw loyalty and drive sales that will ultimately boost profitability.