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Emeryville, Ca Oct 31, 2019: Grocery Store Refrigerator Aisle

Can You Have Fast-casual and a Fresh Food Experience in One?

February 18, 2021
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The all-in-one convenience of shopping for fuel and food in one location makes C-stores a strong competitor to quick-service restaurants. 

But as more people choose C-stores as their one-stop-shop, there will be more eyes and expectations on your store’s ability to meet the demand for fast-casual or fresh-casual dining options. 

This post will explore if your C-store can offer both a fresh-food and fast-casual experience under one roof. 

First, let’s start by differentiating fresh-casual and fast-casual dining.

Fresh-casual eateries are known for sourcing fresh and sometimes organic ingredients. The menu is crafted with chef-driven food options. There is also greater investment in design and decor.

Fast-casual dining, on the other hand, is based on the quick-service model. A guest’s experience starts and ends at the point of sale counter for ordering and pick-up. Fast-casual eateries have more generic displays that are promotional in nature. 

Millennials are drivers of the fresh-casual experience. Data shows this generation desires fresh ingredients, customizable menus, and an aesthetically pleasing eating environment. It also helps that millennials statistically eat out at least once per week compared to their older counterparts.

So, how can you make the two work for you? You can start by finding common ground. 

Fast-casual eateries advertise a higher food quality than fast-food restaurants and typically use fewer frozen or processed ingredients. 

Since fresh-casual dining requires high-quality ingredients, you should consider speed-scratch cooking. Speed-scratch cooking is a time-saving technique for kitchens. It uses ready-made products with fresh ingredients to create tasty and healthy dishes.

An example of a speed-scratch menu item would be a pear, chicken, and gorgonzola cheese salad made with organic or locally-sourced greens, canned pears with no artificial preservatives, and frozen or pre-cut chicken, topped with gorgonzola cheese.

Another example could be speed-scratch tacos. Serve all-natural beef in a premade crispy taco shell topped with pre-cut diced tomatoes, onions, and shredded cheese. 

Remember, fresh can take many forms. You can sell whole pieces of fruit near your point of sale, or fresh fruit cups, salads, and sandwiches in a to-go cooler. 

The future of C-store foodservice is grounded in fresh ingredients. The more you can lean into this demand from consumers, the better it will be for your fast- or fresh-casual eatery. 

Lastly, invest in decor. If you can’t offer in-house seating, consider the aesthetic of your feed service area to create a fresh look for where your patrons will order food.

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