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With reports indicating that elements of social distancing may continue through 2021 and beyond, convenience stores must navigate the “new normal” as it pertains to foodservice.
C-stores have already taken preventative action to slow the spread of the Coronavirus by following sanitation and social distancing guidelines and removing self-serve offerings, such as roller grills, bakery cases and beverage stations.
Removing self-serve food reduces the spread of germs, but creates a gap in potential sales. In order to remain nimble — and profitable — convenience stores can explore new ways to offer foodservice, while still complying with federal guidance to keep patrons and workers safe.
Self-serve food may be temporarily on hold, but the same offerings can be served prepackaged from suppliers. In mid-March, 7-Eleven announced their baked goods would be sold prepackaged. They also replaced their fresh condiments bar with individual condiment packets.
Other C-Stores, like Pilot and Kwik Trip, now serve prepackaged deli foods like sandwiches, wraps, fruit and salads, and packaged roller grill items like hot dogs and taquitos.
Some locations have kept self-served food, like frozen yogurt, available, but with modifications. Instead of offering fresh, open-air toppings, some stores only offer toppings in sealed canisters or dispensers. This enables easy cleaning.
C-stores who want to preserve a food or beverage service without compromising safety can explore clerk-, or associate-served stations. Kum & Go announced that all pizza would be served by clerks, instead of taken by patrons from the hot case.
Stripes Stores said that open-air hot food, if not prepackaged, can be served to customers by a team member. Following suit, Sheetz suspended self-serve coffee and fountain drinks, but offers made-to-order coffee and smoothies from employees.
To help recoup lost sales during the early weeks of quarantine, when in-store purchases flattened, c-stores can offer gasoline discounts, or other incentives, for patrons who pay with cash. Doing this brings customers into the store, where they are more likely to impulse-buy a prepackaged food or beverage item.
According to a Slickdeals survey, more than 70 percent of respondents named food as their biggest impulse purchase. Experiment in your convenience store with product placement near the register to increase quick purchases before cash payments.
Lastly, C-stores can attract customers who don’t want to shop in big-box grocery stores because of crowds by selling grocery items like milk, eggs, bread, lunch meat and pantry staples like peanut butter, pasta, soup and tuna.
While there is nothing “normal” about foodservice during the COVID-19 pandemic, convenience stores who remain agile and open to alternative options may find new — and healthful — ways to serve their customers.
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