Built to Compete

More convenience retailers are becoming foodservice destinations rather than just pit stops. Moreover, savvy c-stores are learning that as they refine their fresh food businesses, adding the right equipment is an essential part of the equation.

By David Bennett, Senior Editor

In this new foodservice era, c-stores—both marquee chains as well as smaller operators—are committing to equipping their kitchens with the final pieces for continued success.

Ashleigh Michaels, RaceTrac’s corporate executive research and development (R&D) chef, said staying current with both consumer tastes and the equipment market has been an important component to shaping the chain’s foodservice program, which has evolved into a robust platform, comprising a stronger deli program, customizable sandwiches, pizzas and specialty beverages that include everything from milkshakes made with real, hand-scooped ice cream to espresso-based lattes, mochas and cappuccinos.

“Staying on top of both technological trends and food and flavor trends is very important for us in this industry. How we capitalize on trends may vary depending on the category and RaceTrac’s need from that particular piece of equipment.”
RaceTrac operates more than 700 stores in 12 states, some under its RaceWay dealer brand.

COOKING TO THE FUTURE
Like any category, the availability of equipment on the market is as diverse as c-store foodservice strategies: countertop ovens, air jet ovens, rack ovens and pizza ovens—including models that rotate to ensure even baking of the whole pie.
“As our store count continues to grow, being able to connect to our equipment remotely is becoming more and more important,” Michaels said. “This allows our maintenance teams to run error reports and guarantee they have the proper parts when they arrive at the store for a repair. It also allows us to update menu offers, settings and/or cook times for a quarterly LTO (limited time offer).”

The technology has helped to drive faster cook times and better food. Perhaps more importantly, adaptable equipment solutions often equate to lower labor costs.
Arlene Spiegel, founder and president of Arlene Spiegel & Associates, said while the acceptance has been slow-moving in terms of Americans embracing the legitimacy of foodservice programs in the convenience channel, the tide is changing and convenience retailers can equip themselves for success.

“The right cooking equipment is critical to a successful program,” said Spiegel. “First, the food is properly prepared, and secondly, and as important, the guests see that the food is fresh and not being microwaved.”

TURNING THE TABLE
Retailers today have more choices of cooking/foodservice equipment that will accommodate smaller store footprints.

“There is a wide range of cooking equipment available that does not require ventilation, including ovens, fryers and cook and hold units,” said Spiegel.

Well before the first oven or microwave is installed, there are five questions c-store operators should ask, said Spiegel, the former director of the global food and beverage practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Essentially:
1. What role will food and beverage play in the overall operation?
2. Will it bring in new customers or just add incremental sales?
3. Can I commit to a ‘new’ business and ‘integrate’ it with my current operations?
4. What real estate in the store am I willing to give up to install a fresh food program?
5. What other choices do my customers have? Will my foodservice be a solution for them?

Spiegel explained that making an investment in the right foodservice equipment is another component—and one of the final steps—of a solid fresh foodservice platform, which should also comprise strategic planning, trends, operations analysis, concept progressions, menu development, financial modeling and brand positioning.

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