The First Steps to Foodservice in Your Convenience Store

The First Steps to Foodservice in Your Convenience Store

In today’s competitive economy, the fight is on for convenience store customers. While some tried-and-true c-store product categories have taken a hit in the past few years, one has continued to grow: foodservice. Starting a foodservice program in your convenience store requires attention to detail in store-operation areas that may be new to you. Food preparation on site requires specific safety, operational management and cost control measures–and in most cases, greater customer service. By mastering foodservice basics, your new foodservice program has the best opportunity for success.

In order to capture “share-of-stomach,” your new foodservice program should: draw new customers as well as repeat customers to your c-store; enhance your profit margins; and create a point of differentiation between your c-store and your competitors. C-stores need to consider the following foodservice basics before embarking on any foodservice program:

Role of Foodservice: Determine the role of your foodservice offering in your c-store. Will it be the driver to bring in customers? How will it be communicated in exterior signage and positioned within the store? Understanding this role in advance will help you allocate store space, staff, and marketing support for your new foodservice program.

Identify Your Customers: Will your new foodservice bring a different set of customers into your store or will your existing customers be buying up or take the place of your c-store products? Identifying your target customers will help you position your marketing message to your customers. Will you be asking them to add on to their c-store purchase or will your foodservice program introduce a entirely new set of customers to your convenience store-or both?

Service and/or Delivery: You need to determine what the type of foodservice you want to offer. Will you offer: a) sit-down service; b) drive-through; c) delivery within the trade-area; or d) simply “grab-and-go”? The type of foodservice you offer will influence your foodservice products, equipment and c-store floor plan.

Menus: Your menu will probably be the hardest for you to determine. Menu selection should be based on: customer preference; competitive delineation; ease of production; inventory management; cost-effective purchasing; and equipment. Menus are an ever-changing art and successful foodservice c-store operators nail it every time. Select a core group of products for your menu, and remember to keep it fresh, using seasonal and promotional menu items to create a customer “call-to-action.”

Food Safety & Sanitation: No messing around here–following food safety and sanitation certification requirements and guidelines is a MUST. One food safety or sanitation slip-up could lead to food-borne illness among your customers, bringing a quick end to your entire c-store operation.

Controlling Costs: Be sure to manage these big three cost components: food, paper and labor. Food, paper and labor cost controls are the lifeline of any foodservice operation. Keeping these costs in line ensures a consistent customer experience, promotes ease of training, and minimizes waste and employee theft. Expect labor to be higher due to food-preparation production.

Marketing: Your new foodservice operation has you going toe-to-toe with the behemoths of the foodservice industry such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. Competition is fierce for share-of-stomach but with your existing customer traffic, you have a great opportunity to capitalize on that loyal customer base as well as bring in more new customers by offering foodservice. Your local store marketing efforts need to focus on your immediate trade area to capture your core customer who relies on your store because it’s convenient!

A successful foodservice program can enhance the overall c-store experience for your customers, in addition to driving incremental traffic to your location. With pre-packaged convenience product items, your c-store competition essentially carries the exact same product line as you do. Oftentimes the only difference between you and your competitors is price. With a foodservice program– be it branded or proprietary-your c-store’s identity can help separate you from your competition. Most important, foodservice is a very effective way to add to your bottom line since many foodservice products are produced on site, meaning your cost of goods are substantially lower and your gross profits higher compared to your core convenience products.

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John Matthews

John Matthews is the president and CEO of Gray Cat Enterprises and is responsible for the management of all consulting activities for the firm, which include retail consulting for multiunit operations; interim divisional or general management leadership; consumer marketing for companies launching products in the retail sector; and strategic project management. With more than 30 years of senior-level experience and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written Game-Changing Strategies for Retailers, which is available on Amazon. In addition, he has two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing for Retailers and How to Stage a Killer Grand Opening!, which are available at www.graycatenterprises.com.

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