Investing in a Foodservice Future

It’s time for all convenience store owners to recognize the overall value of a good deli program.

By Jim Callahan.

While a solid deli program is part of the convenience store industry’s present, it is destined to play an even larger and more critical part of our future.

Whether you are a small chain or someone that is new to the industry, deli operations don’t have to be terrifying nor should success be viewed as impossible. You have to first come to understand your market and understand what you are capable of doing.

The good news for smaller operators not already in the deli business is that a basic foodservice program doesn’t have to be as scary as many make it out to be. It takes a lot of hard work and training, but that is something we all deal with on a daily basis with or without foodservice.

Quick and Convenient
Forgive me for this sacrilege, but even the best deli I’ve ever been in doesn’t conjure up memories of mom’s home cooking or that of a five-star restaurant, and they are not supposed to. Deli meals should be quick, affordable and satisfying, but don’t start something that you are not fully committed to.

In the planning stages consider a long-term vision of where you want to be and set concise goals. Not everyone is going to have a commissary like QuikTrip or a made-to-order volume like Sheetz.

Providers like Great American Deli, Deli Express and Eby-Brown have very acceptable turnkey programs that offer a wide variety of items, such as prepared sandwiches for all three dayparts, wraps, hoagies and even Hispanic menu items with an excellent shelf life.  

But, remember, you never find a successful deli in a dirty store with sub par restrooms.  Consumers must be able to have confidence in the quality of your offerings and that begins with cleanliness throughout your location.

Satisfy Many Needs
Both a great customer shopping experience a great deli should be anchored by an effective coffee program. While we’ve had enormous success with S&D Coffee, there are many great coffee and cappuccino suppliers out there—all eager to earn your business.

Starbucks has proven that price is not the driver of a successful coffee program. Quality and consistency are critical. Accordingly, realize that coffee standing in a glass pot past 30 minutes is unacceptable. The good news is that a 12-ounce cup of coffee runs about 15 cents a cup, so you can afford to throw it out before giving customers a bad experience. Bundle all hot beverages with doughnuts, muffins or a breakfast sandwich to maximize the morning ring.

Like coffee, cold and frozen drink offerings are extremely effective for driving business. Coke and Pepsi are most always anxious to work with a winning formula, so be creative. Bundle cold and frozen beverages with candy or a bag chips to own the filling daypart segments.

My favorite deli offering, however, remains the tried and true roller grill. Like coffee, the secret remains in having the courage to throw out the hot dogs that are past their peak. That may be tough to swallow, but you can’t run a successful deli program by cutting corners. It just does not work.

Both of our small truckstops have full-service restaurants, one a 24-hour Huddle House and the other with authentic Mexican fare. Despite the presence of these units we sell close to 4,000 hot dogs a month—a great number of which are bundled with chips, fountain beverages and a candy bar. The $2.99 price point is unbeatable and so is the return.

The bottom line is that with the government threatening tobacco and fuel prices as volatile as ever, it’s time for everyone to take the deli plunge. Stay focused, stay committed and don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Jim Callahan has more than 40 years of experience as a convenience store and petroleum marketer. His Convenience Store Solutions blog appears regularly on He can be reached at (678) 485-4773 or via e-mail at



  1. A nice summary of things to look for, goals to set, opportunities and standards needed. 

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