C-Stores Bullish on Chicken

chickenWhen Larry Miller started in the c-store business in the 1960s, he cut up chicken for the store’s meat market section. But most stores were skittish when it came to prepared products. Handling raw chicken and properly cooking presented minefields.

No longer. “The supply chain is safer and the equipment makes it easier to prepare,” said Miller, president of Miller Management & Consulting Services in Orlando, Fla.

Products come pre-breaded, pre-marinated and in some cases, pre-cooked. Many stores partner with well-known QSRs, such as Chester’s.
Looking ahead, poultry will continue to gain ground on c-store menus, a new target of the nation’s biggest poultry providers. Consider that Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods is touting Buffalo chicken “bites” to c- stores.

Customer Demand
Why is poultry flying so high? Consumer confidence, for one. According to a Technomic survey, 59% of surveyed c-store consumers would order a chicken sandwich for lunch. (Some 63%would consider a grilled chicken breast sandwich, while 54% prefer chicken strips, nuggets or wings).

“Depending on the preparation, chicken items can provide healthy options for consumers or a point of differentiation for c-store operators,” said Donna Hood Crecca, senior director at Technomic, a Chicago-based consulting and research firm serving the food industry.

To be sure, with chicken becoming so common, differentiation is key. “Don’t just do what everybody else is doing,” Miller said.

QuickChek, which tops Techmonic’s list of c-stores with the highest incidence of chicken on the menus, offers a crispy chicken cordon bleu sandwich on a Portuguese roll. Royal Farms, also on the list, sells fried chicken that’s fresh and not frozen, and chicken parmesan is among its sandwich offerings.
Chicken strips—or tenderloins—can help spark creativity. “It’s in seven menu items for us,” said Jerry Weiner, vice president of foodservice for York, Pa.-based Rutter’s Farm Stores, which has 59 locations in Pennsylvania. “Anytime we can increase menu items without increasing a SKU is a homerun.”

Rutter’s buys tenders pre-marinated or pre-breaded for such dishes as chicken quesadillas, soft-shell tacos, burritos and salads. (Sixty-six percent of Techmonics survey respondents would consider a grilled chicken salad.) Offering a diverse amount of sauces helps the products appeal to a wide range of palates, Weiner added. Many suppliers also adjust seasonings. What about whole chicken? Rutter’s offers quartered rotisserie chicken, but it’s not “knocking the walls off the store,” Weiner said. “It’s doing OK.”

Turkey, meanwhile, is a growth area, Miller said. Along with the expected turkey cold cuts, stores could also substitute turkey for ground beef in chili and for burgers. ◆

Who’s Buying Chicken?
According to Tyson foods’ 360 Deli/Chicken Tenders Merchandising Guide, when shoppers are hungry, they often buy
tenders—46% of purchases are for lunch or snacks. And more than half of tenders are bought on impulse, so make sure your shoppers know that you carry their handheld, grab-and-go favorite.

Meal Occasion
■  Tenders and strips are eaten almost equally as a dinner or lunch (46% lunch, 47% dinner).

Merchandising for Maximum Sales
■  While nearly half (44%) of tenders or strips are consumed at home, the “in-car or on the road” consumption of tenders or strips is very high.
■  Deli retailers experienced a 46% six-month category increase with a tenders/wings merchandising concept.
■  Add excitement to the category by featuring a hot and spicy tender flavor—your most valuable deli shopper, the Promotional Experimenter, is highly impulsive and seeks out new flavors to try.

Pricing
■ Price sensitivity is high in the tenders category. Be sure to check your competitors’ pricing regularly.

About the Chicken Consumer
The Promotional Experimenter
These shoppers love to try new things especially if they’re on promotion.
■ Makes up about 27% of your prepared foods shoppers—and your most valued shopper.
Convenience Shoppers
■ Looking for food packaged in ready-to-serve packaging with easy clean up.
■ They make decisions based on grab-and-go availability so be sure to keep your self-serve cases stocked and appealing.
Source:  Tyson Foods Inc., 360 Deli/Chicken Tenders Merchandising Guide

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