Thanks to a surge of new products focused on ethnic diversity, the roller grill—the original anchor for most convenience store hot food programs—is hotter than ever before. And the one thing c-store operators like and appreciate most about roller grills is that you hardly notice they’re there.
Grills don’t take up much room and can fit almost anywhere. They use little energy to power, the products are affordable for customers to eat everyday and the grills aren’t difficult to clean.
“It’s a very reliable piece of equipment that is easy to use and maintain for operations,” said Dana Tilley, director of quality assurance for The Pantry Inc. in Cary, N.C., which operates 1,672 stores in 13 states under a variety of banners, including Kangaroo Express. “It’s also self-contained allowing us to offer hot quality food to our guests at a value price point.”
Chicago-based foodservice consultant Technomic Inc., which tracks trends and changes in every channel serving food, noted several months ago: “Although roller grill programs have been present in c-stores for some time, the food has often had a reputation for poor quality. C-stores have begun to change that image with new, improved offerings such as 100% all-beef hot dogs and brats.”
The reason? “Like other foodservice segments, c-stores must continue to evolve in order to survive,” said Technomic’s Executive Vice President Darren Tristano.
Value and Diversity
Emphasizing quality and product assortment at the roller grill has had positive effects on industry titans, such as Thorntons in Louisville, Ky. and QuikTrip in Tulsa, Okla.
With 161 stores, Thorntons is making a strong impact with items like hot dogs, chicken dogs and corn dogs. And the array of products never been greater. New items include pork sausage, Cajun-spiced meats, cheddar and jalapeño sausage, smoked kielbasa, smoked sausage, stuffed breadsticks and a wide variety of egg rolls.
QuikTrip’s promotional strategies for hot dogs include weiner mobiles that appear at QT sites periodically and charcoal grills that are set up in some stores’ parking lots during summer months.
A host of companies are busily refining and expanding their roller grill programs designed for c-stores. One supplier, for example, lets retailers earn rebates to cover the full cost of merchandising items simply by purchasing its meat products. Among the items it can provide as part of its merchandising package are the grill itself, menu boards, custom graphics, mini-push carts and a hotdog heat/holding unit and instructional graphics for employees.
The growth of ethnic foods appears tailor-made for roller grill operations. One ethnic-foods marketer, for instance, offers a wide variety of seven-ounce burritos designed to retail for $1.79 to $1.89. Other offerings include larger burritos, such as Seasoned Beef Steak, Pork in Green Chile Salsa, Chicken with Fire Roasted Bell Peppers and Beef Steak in Red Chile Sauce, designed to sell for $1.89 to $1.99.