Snack-sized meals have established their place in today’s food consumption behaviour. Each generation desires convenience, variety and good value, as more and more Canadians intentionally frequent c-stores for their lunch meal. And why not? The selection is pleasantly appealing… from fries and hotdogs to chicken kabobs, cheeseburgers, pizzas and calzones – all readily available. Eaten cold or hot, heated on the grill or a minute or two in the microwave, consumed on site or taken to go – the choice is yours.
Where are you on your foodservice journey and the road to profitability? Whether you’re a foodservice novice or an intermediate, there’s something to learn and more to earn with an effective lunch program.
Convenience & Carwash Canada spoke with representatives from Canadian Trade House, White Castle, Expresco Foods, and McCain Foodservice for their perspective on foodservice programs, specifically as it relates to lunch, in the C&G channel. The following are answers to our questions in our quest to offer you valuable insights to an effective lunch program.
What is your most popular lunch product?
“Hands-down, our calzones, baguettes and pizzas are our most popular lunchtime product,” says Rick Woods, managing partner, Canadian Trade House. “While there are minor nuances in popularity from one province to another, these staple products are pretty much standard across Canada.”
According to McCain’s, crispy potato wedges are popular. “As a nostalgic, feel-good, comfort food, potato wedges continue to perform extremely well,” says Greg Boyer, director of Marketing for McCain Foodservice. “They’re well suited to C&G because the bigger shape enables them to retain heat longer, therefore giving them a longer hold time. Potato wedges can also be baked so the operator doesn’t need to have a deep fryer to offer them.”
White Castle’s internationally-recognized brand and famous 2'x2' sandwich, known as “the original slider,” thanks to Hollywood films like Harold & Kumar – two characters who searched all night for a White Castle – offers a restaurant quality meal in a convenient setting. Their two-pack and six-pack of hamburgers/cheeseburgers are currently available at 7-Eleven, Mac’s/Circle K, Petro Canada, Husky and a number of independents across Western Canada. According to Steve Ording, national convenience store sales manager at White Castle, their sliders can be stored fresh or frozen with a shelf life of 10 days to seven months respectively.
New to market are Expresco Foods’ ProSticks grilled chicken skewers, available at 7-Eleven’s across Canada. “We created a high-quality protein snack to address consumers’ growing desire for artisanal experiences,” says Michael Delli Colli, retail brand manager at Expresco Foods. Sold as a ‘grab n’ go’ item, ProSticks can be consumed cold with a salad or right out of the package with dipping sauce.
What other lunch products might you offer your customers?
McCain has a variety of craveable, versatile products that can be prepared quickly and customized, without sacrificing quality. “A few products that hold well include twisted potatoes, potato bites, breaded pickle spears and macaroni and cheese wedges,” says Boyer. “In addition to being customer favourites, these products are cost-effective in terms of labour, making them a great option for operators who want menu items that will be both profitable and popular, or are looking to manage new operating or wage costs.”
Canadian Trade House also offers sub sandwiches, chicken Caesar wraps, and pulled pork – under the Chicks brand, as part of their Hot Stuff Foods group. “We also work extensively with C&G stores in building a takeaway fresh pizza program under a licensing agreement.” Their C&G pizzerias have been in operation for 10 years, with 25 locations throughout Western Canada.
White Castle looks forward to offering its Canadian customers their yet-to-be-launched veggie slider and black bean slider, both on a clean bun, meaning it’s not made with animal products which can appealing to vegans. These new sliders were taste-tested at this year's Carwacs show.
Is there a tiered approach to offering an effective lunch program?
Because of its ease of cooking and speed of preparation, along with its reputable brand recognition, Nathan Hayden, brand manager at White Castle believes their original sliders serves as both a great entry level and premium foodservice item. Ording adds, “It’s like having a franchise but not having to pay the licensing fees and everything involved because you’re able to offer a name brand, restaurant-type sandwich into a c-store environment.”
According to Woods, the easiest and least expensive way to enter the lunch occasion is by roller grill and deli sandwiches, fresh or frozen. “As you develop your clientele, you’ll figure out if there is a need to expand into hot foods and ready-made meals, prepared on site.”
For McCain Foodservice, familiar and simple are what their products are about. “It’s important to have a variety of products available to suit the needs of both the c-store customer and operator – products that are simple to prepare, have a long hold time if prepared in advance, and still taste great when the customer picks it up.” Boyer adds, “It’s extremely important to make sure you’re not sacrificing quality in favour of speed.”
What details do you take into consideration when developing a foodservice program with a C&G retailer?
All respondents agree that foodservice is not a one size fits all approach and that there are many factors that need to be considered before committing to a lunch foodservice program, such as clientele, customer preferences, location and its proximity to schools, industrial parks and high traffic areas.
“Research the marketplace, understand what you’re getting into and choose the right products,” says Woods.
Delli Colli stresses the importance of knowing what’s trending. “With the rise in popularity of food trucks, shoppers are searching for quality food that both satisfies and excites their palates. Flavours (bold and spicy are currently trending), convenience and easy to eat are all important factors.”
According to Boyer, creating an effective lunch program starts with product selection. “Focus on choosing products that hit the sweet spot – easy to prepare, profitable and popular with consumers because they’re convenient and easily recognizable.” Consumer research conducted by McCain Foodservice in 2017 found that specials and discounts have a significant influence on where Canadians go to eat, as well as what they order. “Another consideration is trying to increase customer satisfaction and create loyalty by responding to customer preferences.”
Beyond food, flavours and promotions, the interior of a c-store should be conducive to a foodservice setting – a manner that maintains superior food quality while on display, in storage and during preparation. Space for seating, as desired, is also an option that should be considered.
What kind of money is there to be made from a lunch foodservice program?
All respondents indicated that c-store lunches are traditionally priced under $10. With minimal labour required, upfront equipment expenses behind you and little effect on utilities, profit margins can range from 40 per cent to 60 per cent. The average being 50 per cent in general, based on suggested retail pricing by foodservice manufacturers and distributors. Pairings and promotions, while might create a perception of short-term loss, delivers customer satisfaction and builds loyalty, which results in long-term profitability.
Meline Beach is a Toronto-based freelance writer.