NACS CAFÉ Serves Up a Foodservice Education

It began with a simple, yet powerful premise: Convenience store retailers, with their great locations and high customer traffic are well-positioned to capitalize on the development and execution of meaningful foodservice programs. All they need is a solid foundation of information, support, solutions and best practices to succeed.

Enter Greg Parker, president and CEO of The Parker Cos. in Savannah, Ga. Parker exudes confidence and makes success look easy with his chain of upscale Parker’s Convenience Stores and Parker’s Markets. But few people in the industry work harder at achieving their goals and fewer still are as motivated to help others elevate their game when it comes to developing an outstanding foodservice program.

Parker’s initiative, which was officially embraced by NACS a year ago, is NACS CAFÉ, the Center for Achieving Foodservice Excellence. It is an organization that is as timely as it is visionary.

Foodservice now accounts for nearly one in every six dollars spent inside convenience stores. NACS CAFÉ will provide certified training programs for foodservice managers, supervisors and corporate directors through a series of online computer-based training modules, on-campus educational programs and a Web-based resource center.

“The NACS CAFÉ is designed to bring compelling value to both small companies just getting into foodservice and sophisticated retailers already in the business,” Parker said.  “We want to be the source for everything foodservice in the convenience store industry. Since different things work for different people, each operator has their own set of challenges. NACS CAFÉ will serve as the industry’s prime source for solutions, ideas, information and education to expand and perfect their foodservice operations.”

NACS CAFÉ’s objective is to level the playing field between convenience retailers and restaurant operators. It will focus on strategic issues such as:

• Food Safety and Sanitation
• Marketing and Merchandising
• Product Innovation
• Effective Store Operations
• Best Workforce Practices
• Training and Execution
• Pricing and Positioning Strategies
• Branding and Brand Building
• Finance and Administration

Parker sat down with Convenience Store Decisions to discuss the development of NACS CAFÉ and the group’s short- and long-term goals.

CSD: The concept of NACS CAFÉ has been a pet project of yours for several years. How did you come up with the idea for the group?

GP: I arrived at the idea of doing this about five years ago. I have presented at the NACS State of the Industry Summit for the past five years and during that time it became obvious that when you looked at the top performers in the industry they were more heavily invested in foodservice then all other quartiles. Being data driven the way I am this really stood out and told a story about the future of our industry.

The pure empirical data from this top quartile was an “aha” moment, so I got together with Coca-Cola and talked about it. Could we create a center for foodservice excellence within the convenience store industry? It was a hard road convincing people that this is worthwhile, especially in this economy. We had to figure out how we were going to pay for it, get the right people involved and get the executive board of NACS to support it, not to mention finding supplier partners that were willing to work with us.

CSD: Why does the convenience store industry need NACS CAFÉ?

GP: NACS CAFÉ is going to be the one source in the industry that focuses on foodservice initiatives, profitability, food safety and sanitation, marketing and merchandising and all things foodservice. If you look at the National Restaurant Association (NRA), they have had a tremendous system in place for years for restaurants and QSR’s. If a restaurant operator wants to get foodservice training or certification, they go through NRA.

But here we were with 145,000 stores—every single store is involved with foodservices in some way because foodservice includes hot and cold beverages, not just a full blown deli—but the c-store industry lacked a single source to help our operators elevate their game, learn best practices and get the support they need to become competent foodservice marketers. NACS CAFÉ aims to fill that role.

CSD: As you mentioned, foodservice competition is fierce. Are you concerned about other retail channels moving in on the industry’s foodservice market share?

GP: This is a big concern for everyone in the industry. Drug stores are moving into foodservice, QSR’s are getting into convenience with coffee and snacks and grocery stores are targeting our fuel customers. Everybody is after our market segment. The training and education we will be offering through NACS CAFÉ is going to enable us to compete more effectively with them on food sales to protect our market share.

We as an industry need to be an alternative to QSR’s. By having a center for foodservice excellence we can better compete with the people that are targeting us.

CSD: Besides yourself, who are the other key retailers and suppliers currently involved in NACS CAFÉ leadership?

GP: We put together a steering committee including industry veterans like Dr. Jack Cushman, of Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes; Jerry Weiner, of Rutter’s Farm Stores and John Schaninger, of Quick Chek Food Stores, all of whom are brilliant, analytical men committed to helping operators succeed with foodservice. We all recognize how important perception is in the market so we want every company, even our competitors, to have a great food program. Competition not only elevates our game, but it sends a message to consumers that convenience stores have emerged as a leading source for foodservice solutions.

A lot of credit also has to go to our six supplier partners that stepped to the plate and got behind us to make NACS CAFÉ a reality. They are Anheuser-Bush, Coca-Cola, Ecolab, Georgia-Pacific, Kraft Foods and McLane.

Plus, we’re working with Debby Cannon, the director of the School of Hospitality at Georgia State University, which is one of the top 10 hospitality schools in the country. Nancy Caldarola, who has more than 40 years of experience in the hospitality industry, is the education director.

CSD: Are you surprised by the outpouring of support from retailers and suppliers?

GP: The support we are getting really shows how incredible our industry is. When you go to a bunch of suppliers and say, “We see this as something that’s very important to the industry, will you help us?” And you have six powerful companies stand up and say, “Yes, we get it. What can we do?” It’s a great feeling. There’s a profound sense of altruism at work here.

On the retailer side, we’ve got all these other chains that are getting onboard to do what they can to help us be successful. I defy you to think of another industry where people that compete with each other get together and do something for the betterment of the industry as a whole. It’s a special industry run by special people, and I am proud to be a part of it.

CSD: What is the next step for NACS CAFÉ?

GP: We begin our first training sessions in December. We’re going to try to have as many representatives from our steering committee as possible on hand to vet the program to continue shaping what will be our long-term commitment to educating, training and supporting convenience store industry foodservice programs.

Retailers interested in attending the upcoming NACS CAFÉ meeting, a detailed list of
sessions that will be offered or information about future events should visit www.nacsonline.com or email nacscafe@nacsonline.com. CSD

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