By: Marilyn Odesser-Torpey | June 2, 2023

As a growing number of consumers are looking to convenience stores for meals and snacks, retailers are going all out to meet their demands by offering a variety of their favorite foods fast, fresh and at value prices.

Chicken, pizza and roller grill items have been convenience store mainstays for years, but there is always room for innovation and experimentation among these core convenience store offerings. C-store retailers are finding new ways to elevate these foodservice staples as they look to attract new customers.

Kwik Trip and Kwik Star stores in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa sell “a ton” of chicken, according to Paul Servais, the director of research and development for Kwik Trip and Kwik Star, which operate a combined 800 locations.

“Right now, chicken accounts for a little more than a third of our total hot food sales,” Servais explained. “And it’s rapidly becoming a bigger piece of that category’s sales.”

Sold under the company’s Kitchen Kravings proprietary foodservice brand, the chicken is hand breaded and fried fresh in the stores. At Kwik Trip and Kwik Star there is a chicken package to suit every preference and appetite, from the best-selling three jumbo tenders and crispy chicken sandwich to two-, four- and eight-piece bone-in pieces and whole oven-roasted birds.

Servais pointed out that the company introduced the whole roasted chickens to help drive home the notion of Kwik Trip and Kwik Star as top-of-mind dinner destinations. To promote the roasted chickens, the stores feature them at a value price of $5.99 every Monday.

Surprisingly, while the fresh-fried chicken has experienced what Servais described as “incredibly rapid growth,” it has not at all cannibalized the stores’ pizza or burger sales.

“Our sales of those two items have grown as well,” he said. “We believe that the freshness of our chicken legitimizes all the other items in our foodservice program.”

The stores first launched the chicken program in 2019 and had fully deployed it chainwide in 2020. It will also be a featured attraction at several new stores the company plans to open in Illinois, Michigan and South Dakota this year, Servais added.

Pizza Remains Profitable

Pizza is a powerhouse, accounting for 20% of foodservice sales at Fleetway Market, which has a total of 23 stores in central and southern Mississippi, stated Casey Comfort, foodservice and beverage director at Fleetway Market’s parent company Fleet Morris Petroleum. On average pizza sales at Fleetway have increased over 10% year over year for the past two years, he noted.

Fifteen of the stores feature a Hunt Brothers Pizza program. The other eight are located in non-compete areas where Hunt Brothers already operates. New stores in areas where Hunt Brothers does not already have a presence will also include the program, Comfort added.

Not surprisingly, lunch and dinner are the most active dayparts for pizza sales. But, Comfort noted, morning is also a dynamic daypart at many of the stores, not only for the eggs-bacon-sausage-cheese breakfast pie, but for dependable pepperoni and sausage pizzas as well.

Companywide, Fleetway sells more hunks — one-quarter of a 12-inch pizza — than whole pies. But some of the stores in rural areas without competitive pizza shops can sell more than 100 whole pies a week, he pointed out.

The stores promote their pizza offering with collateral materials such as limited-time offers (LTOs) every quarter and window and in-store signage provided by Hunt Brothers. Fleetway’s stores also include pizza on its rewards app and social media posts. Further, the chain is getting into bundling, such as Red Bull and a breakfast hunk or whole pizza and two-liter Coke combos.

Roller Grill Opportunities

For years, Dandy Mini Mart has limited its roller grill offerings to hot dogs and sausages. And for some of its 65 stores in New York and Pennsylvania, that has been enough to earn the grill its place on the countertop in its foodservice area, said James Fry, the company’s foodservice director.

“Some of our stores are destinations for workers who are in a real hurry and only want to grab a quick hot dog,” he explained. “In other stores our sales are flat, and that has made us debate whether to get rid of the grill and cook our hot dogs in our speed oven.”

Before making that decision, Dandy management is looking to the plethora of other items available for roller grill such as specialty hot dogs, tornados, taquitos and roller bites.

“The opportunities are out there, and we need to explore them,” Fry noted. “But we know that we are going to have to either go in whole hog or get out of the roller grill business altogether.”

In July, Dandy will be featuring four kinds of specialty hot dogs on its roller grills to begin to explore the possibilities of the category, he stated. The test will span a two-month period.

Source: CStore Decisions