Meeting the Demand for Fresh Foods

JohnNewI was having drinks with some friends recently at the NACS Leadership Conference  when the topic of exceeding the customers’ expectations came up. I was asked by a member of the group what I thought was the true cost of not doing something right the first time. The consensus was that when it came to foodservice the cost of poor execution was an incalculable, irreversible error that may be too difficult to overcome at all.

I was immediately reminded of a saying I heard years ago: “You don’t need a parachute to go skydiving. You only need a parachute to go skydiving twice.”

Customers are very picky when it comes to their food. They want it fast, they want it fresh and they want value. Violating just one of these core tenets could drive them away, perhaps forever. So there is quite a bit of pressure on convenience store retailers to get their foodservice offering right the first time. It’s better to be slow and cautious when rolling out a food strategy then to overwhelm your customers with a full menu of mediocre items.

In talking to experts, here’s a rundown of key points to remember as you plan the next step in your foodservice strategy:

1) Make the offering fresher and healthier. QSR’s have already set the benchmark in food preparation and service. Three minutes or less is the maximum time customers are used to, and many are attracted to sites with drive-throughs. But more importantly, customers are seeking out healthier solutions. More than one-third of American youths are obese, according to a recent New York Times study. This demographic needs healthy alternatives, as do seniors. As the population ages, there is a need to accommodate special diets, such as low sugar, no sugar and low carbohydrates.

2) Focus on local palates. Local service in Miami is not the same as local in Chicago. For example, successful chains with operations in more than one market are developing specific products for, say Latino’s in Miami, who are mostly Cubans versus the Latino community in Los Angeles, who are not.

3) Real choices. Customers want to be served what they want, not just what the convenience store offers. Subway is helping to capture this growing demand by offering an expanded toppings bar. Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks are also diversifying their offerings by pushing espresso shots, lattes and new coffee blends.

4) Quality items. QSR and supermarkets are raising the bar on consumer expectations. C-stores have less space, but they are still expected to match the ambience, quality and affordability of their bigger competitors.

5) Bold original flavors. Extreme hot is in extreme demand. Chipotle is everywhere and customers are welcoming the diversity. Wawa has added Buffalo chicken bites which are marketed right at the front counter and am/pm has embraced this need by adding new spices to its toppings bar.

6) Functional beverages. This trend started with bottled water more than a decade ago and has not slowed. Bottled water is now available in many flavors and the trend is carrying over to soda and teas. Flavor shots in sodas include buzz words like ginseng, ginkoba and guarana. But also keep an eye on frozen. Smoothies have been embraced by customers looking for a healthy indulgence and even as a meal substitute.

7) Organics. The growth of chains like Whole Food’s and Trader Joe’s is hardly an accident. Customers have a real demand for the organic foods and the healthier perception those foods offer. Plus, Walgreens and Walmart are getting into organics and have the opportunity to take the category mainstream. This is a significant step for the growth of organic foods.

Remember, foodservice isn’t about whether you have the money and the space to add a branded program. It’s about operations and embracing the change in corporate culture that’s required to make the program fulfill your customers’ needs.



  1. B. Burkle says:

    I agree you only have one chance to make a first impression when it comes to food. Has anyone had a successful sampling program? I know supermarkets and some of the big box retailers do them, but does anyone in the convenience store industry have a sampling program? Thanks.

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