foodservice, foodservice management
Reliable data and tailored offerings are the foundation of a successful foodservice program.

For decades, “gas, smokes and Cokes” were the main attractions at convenience stores, but that’s changing. As the traditional buyer persona recedes from view, women and millennials are coming to the forefront, forcing retailers to adapt their strategies to changing consumer preferences.

It can be argued that this shift is most evident in the rise of foodservice. As other historically high-performing categories—like tobacco—decline or remain relatively stagnant, foodservice continues to grow, accounting for over 22 percent of in-store sales and nearly 34 percent of in-store gross profit dollars, according to the latest NACS State of the Industry Report.

Foodservice is the new king of the hill, and retailers large and small are constantly refining their programs to satisfy consumer expectations for a diverse, delicious culinary experience. If you’re looking to join the foodservice fray or breathe some new life into your operation’s foodservice performance, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Looks Matter

In 2019, convenience stores are still battling a decades-long, “dirty” public perception. Doing your part to dispel the myth by keeping a clean and organized store is an easy step toward achieving foodservice success. No one wants to get their food from a place that looks unkempt. And whether you’re serving premade or made-to-order items, dirty looks can literally kill your foodservice category.

But looks go beyond cleanliness. Branding and the location of your foodservice offering in the store play a large part in the public’s perception of your program. For example, Stripes’ Laredo Taco brand is typically highly visible on the building’s exterior signage, and the food station enjoys prime placement at the front of the store. Similarly, Buc-ee’s places its large food stations in the center of the stores, which drives foodservice traffic and emphasizes the importance of foodservice to the Buc-ee’s experience.

Know Your Neighbors

Keeping a finger on the consumer palate is critical to building a successful foodservice program. These programs can and should be tweaked by region. For example, tacos may not fare as well as hoagie sandwiches in some U.S. locations. Knowing the demographics and taste preferences of the population in your neck of the woods will help you tailor your food offerings to meet the needs of people in your area.

However, knowing your audience shouldn’t prevent you from taking risks and introducing new items or flavors into your foodservice program. The ubiquity of the internet and social media have made the world a much smaller place, and consumers increasingly expect to enjoy diverse food experiences at their local convenience store. If you’re struggling with how to incorporate new flavors, Roger Lane, manager of savory flavors for Sensient Technologies, said, “Combining these cuisines with a format familiar to consumers can also be helpful. Why not create a Korean-style burrito using ingredients found in typical Korean fare, but wrapped in a tortilla for a format everyone knows?”

Lastly, knowing your neighbors should also impact pricing. If, for example, your convenience store is located in an area frequented by college students or low-income residents, you may consider adjusting your foodservice prices or offering more frequent deals and promotions to drive traffic.

Tap into Technology

Technology is a big part of optimizing your foodservice program. For made-to-order operators, taking optimization to the next level often means bringing convenience to the ordering process. After a long day work, many consumers want the ability to place their order from a mobile device, walk in and pick it up. In the case of another PDI customer, its patrons can have made-to-order pizza delivered to their home.

Aside from convenient ordering systems, retailers should also invest in data driven foodservice management tools. These solutions help maximize sales and minimize waste by offering several important capabilities: production planning, waste management, inventory management and analytics. A good production planning system uses predictive analytics to let store-level staff know when to make something and how many to make. It should also monitor the “health” of your prepared food, letting employees know when its time to throw something away or if an item is the right temperature. Waste and inventory management work together to ensure you maintain balanced inventory levels and reduce excessive waste. In addition, a sophisticated inventory management tool will allow you to accurately track inventory for menu items that require multiple ingredients (e.g. hamburgers). Lastly, analytics power the entire operation, tracking product movement and transactional data trends that enable you to refine your foodservice program as you go.

Foodservice is not just the future; it’s now. Convenience retailers who wish to capitalize on this trend should learn from others who are doing it well and invest in the tools to deliver exceptionally tailored and tasty culinary experiences to their customers.

Did You Know: Your Source for PDI News provided by PDI, the leader in enterprise management software for the convenience retail and petroleum wholesale markets.