The popularity of c-store food is greater than ever, especially with increasingly busy crowds looking for a quick bite to eat, convenient lunch, or on-the-go family dinner. Data released by the National Association of Convenience Stores show that almost a quarter of all U.S. c-store sales come from food and beverages alone. And with over half of Americans purchasing meals from convenience stores at least once a month, it might be worth a second look at the breadth and type of foods, beverages, and services you offer. But not so fast. Expanding your foodservice line might be in the cards, but before you introduce “the new,” there are lessons to learn from those that have gone before you.
Always account for menu variety and trends
Data is your friend (just ask anyone that’s ignored it in the past). Analytics is a great way to determine how menu items are currently performing. One way to gather data is to take customer surveys and look at the trends your industry is talking about. After you’ve done some investigating, weigh your options and make a plan for a menu modernization — or an entire expansion. Consider getting rid of dishes that perform poorly, and look for food items that will serve the needs (and appetites) of your customers and locations. Is fried chicken, fresh Mexican or an acai bowl bar what your neighborhood needs? If you provide what customers demand, they’ll keep coming back again and again.
Assess store space, early
C-store operators aren’t typically short of ideas, but where some fall short in assessing the space needed to expand a foodservice line. Don’t let this one catch you off guard. Specific food items or services (such as a new catering offering) could significantly increase square footage needs. In fact, with c-stores starting to dig deeper into quick-serve restaurants, new stores are expanding kitchens and increasing their square footage by approximately 1,000 square feet. A solution for existing c-stores could simply be adjusting (or eliminating) some areas within the existing store footprint. Or, weigh the investment of expanding or upgrading your location. Adequate space is crucial to expanding any foodservice line because it allows room for new products, equipment, and staff — all while maintaining optimal store flow.
Evaluate in-house resources
All too often operations try to muscle through without fully evaluating what resources they currently have and what they’ll need for success. A better plan is to first look at the equipment you already have in-house and evaluate what items are useful for your new line to move forward. Are you thinking about adding a rice bowl line? You might not need the 20-quart dough mixer from 1983. Want to serve artisan pizzas? Does your kitchen have ovens with the cooking power and technology to keep up with the increased demands of a new, popular menu item? Is your cooler, freezer and hot-holding equipment up to the task of storing and holding your products? If space is an issue, consider expanding your store or looking at ventless equipment, countertop units, combination ovens or other products that offer versatility or a smaller footprint.
Use automation and technology to your advantage
Automation is the king of convenience (ahem, the namesake of your operation). If you have a quick-serve restaurant or deli line within a c-store, your customers are looking for easy, quick, and delicious. One way to provide those things is to focus on upgrading outdated equipment to automated commercial kitchen units. Preparing tasty, consistent foods with ease is made simple through automation. Overcooked or undercooked menu items are no longer an issue with programmable preset recipes (punch in the preset recipe, and wait for it to be cooked to perfection). Precision heating is also a technology that helps increase the speed and consistency of your outgoing dishes. Whatever you decide, just remember that technology and automation are the future of food service.
What about that bottom line?
C-store food service is a big deal and brings in more than one-third of profits for most operations. Give customers the foods they want and, in the process, increase your overall bottom line. Want other tips on how to knock your revenue out of the park? Check out our blog post, “How Convenience Stores Can Drive Revenue Meeting Demand for On-The-Go Meals.”
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