By: Mary Bentley | Purchasing Specialist

There is increased competition between convenience stores and the fast food industry for foodservice market share. In 2019, Frank Beard (GasBuddy) shared that people prefer convenience stores over fast food locations because of the ease of a one-stop-shop for fuel and food. He explained that consumers also prefer the taste of food at c-stores.
• 68% of retailers reported that foodservice sales increased in 2018.
• With tobacco and fuel revenues decreasing, c-stores look to the foodservice category to make up profits.
• Consumer behavior studies show that 66% of customers purchase prepared food at least three times per month. (GroceryDive.com)
– 41% of these customers buy prepared food on impulse.
• A growing segment of consumers are 18-34 years old.
– They represent a large portion of the growth potential for roller grill items.
– 54% of Millennials are likely to purchase their prepared foods from a c-store if the store provides roller grill items. (Technomic)
– 81% of those who buy a roller grill item will go on to purchase other items.

Recent consumer behavior shows five key areas of growth for roller grill sales: portability, diversity, customization, freshness and healthiness.

Portability
Roller grills provide the perfect solution for portability and convenience to consumers who need an easy, go-to solution for immediate snacking, quick lunches and impulsive meal decisions that fit their overloaded schedules.
• Prepared food purchases are largely taken to go (73%) and consumed immediately (47%).
• 64% of roller grill purchases arise from the need for a portable snack. (Richard George)
• Consumers 18-34 years old are driven by their tendency toward easy and quick purchases — they already shop at c-stores for food and beverages 11% of the time.

Diversity
Expanding the selections on a roller grill is a quick way to drive sales.
• At least 35% of Gen Z say they would be more likely to visit a c-store for a better variety of food at a great value.
• About 45% of Millennials would try a roller grill item with a new or interesting flavor. (Technomic)
• The typical consumer buys chips and a drink to go along with the roller grill purchase.
– Create promotional bundle offers to encourage the quick decisions that fit consumers’ busy lifestyles.

Ideas for going beyond the typical c-store offerings of hot dogs:
• Chicken-filled waffle rolls
• Tamales
• Egg rolls.
• Breakfast options with portable meals like maple-pancake sausage or egg-combo taquitos.

Customization
Consumers are 65% more likely to purchase prepared foodservice items if they can customize their selection.
• Foodservice suppliers are tapping into this consumer need with digital boards.
– The boards suggest toppings, display full menus, provide nutritional information and allow consumers to upload their own ideas for customization.

Some retailers, like Rutter’s Farm Stores, moved their roller grill behind the counter to increase their customized offerings. They have added cannoli, short ribs and other creative portable foods to satisfy their consumers’ needs to customize food.Whether the roller grill is self-service or located behind the counter, offering a large selection of condiments will provide the consumer with opportunity to create their own quick, on-the-go meal. Many consumers desire more piquant and spicy condiment flavors, often with an Asian flair.
• Offer a wide variety of condiments to increase roller grill sales through customization.

Freshness
41% of consumers will purchase roller grill items that appear freshly made. Consumers reported that 53% of their top roller grill purchases were labeled “made fresh daily”, according to CSP Daily News.

Mickey Jamal, co-owner of Chestnut Petroleum, says that his consumers demand higher quality food than in the past.
• Cleanliness and a fresh appearance are critical to the perception that food is high quality.
• Freshness can be from the food ingredients and also from the appearance of the roller grill area.
• Updated signage with clean colors and an uncluttered appearance promote the “fresh” look of roller grill items.

Healthiness
It is no secret the recent consumer trends in food are focused on healthier choices. C-stores should consider food choices that align with consumers’ desire for a healthier selection that can be immediately consumed.

A majority of consumers (53%) report they would buy more c-store prepared food items if there were healthier selections. Healthy selections go beyond lower calorie or lower fat. Along with the perceived freshness, consumers look for natural or clean ingredients such as eggs, white meat chicken or lean beef and pork. Technomic data confirmed that patrons would be willing to pay more for the healthier foodservice options if they were available.

In conclusion, as the c-store industry increasingly competes with the fast food market for their share of convenient, quick meal options, the roller grill is a great choice to easily attract customers and increase foodservice sales. Recent focus on increased foodservice revenue by large market share c-store retailers like 7-Eleven will escalate the drive for the entire c-store segment to find ways to change their view of roller grill selection. C-stores should look beyond the typical roller grill menu and focus on five critical areas important to consumers to boost revenue on this underutilized component of their foodservice category.

Sources:
GroceryDive.com; GasBuddy; Technomic; Richard George