Filling Stomachs As Well As Gas Tanks
“Any quick-service restaurant operator will tell you that their greatest fear is not another QSR, but c-stores that get prepared food right,” said Ira Blumenthal, president of the consultant firm, Co-Opportunities.
Why? Because convenience stores have the ability to be so many things to the consumer, just their sheer potential strikes fear in restaurants. “[Up to] 80 percent of QSR food [is] being eaten in the car, and the quintessential retailer that caters to cars is the c-store,” Blumenthal also observed.
Jeff Lenard, vice president of communications for the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), must agree. He is often quoted as saying, “We want to be considered, in the consumers’ mind, as restaurants that happen to sell gas, rather than as gas stations that happen to sell food.”
So, which are you? Can your store be called a restaurant that also sells gas? And, more importantly, is your c-store ready to win the battle for your customer’s stomach and wallet?
C-stores already have quite an advantage over restaurants when it comes to time. A customer can be in and out with purchase in-hand in less than five minutes. Price is another advantage, at least in one segment. According to Sara Monnette at the food service research firm, Technomic, “C-stores do a better job with [fountain drinks]. They [offer] very large sizes, very well priced.” So well priced that in tough economic times, customers have been known to hit the drive-thru for a sandwich and then their c-store for a 59-cent beverage.
But how can you get the customer to come in for more than just your version of the Big Gulp? By noting what QSRs do well and then beating them at their game.
One way is by utilizing “Day Part” menu boards (see separate article below) that use fast-flipping inserts to showcase a great offer on one side — with another one hidden on the back until you’re ready to switch. These menu boards are ideal for the fast pace of the c-stores and a great way to showcase a variety of enticing food items and pricing specials throughout the day to drive sales.
One of the most popular QSR trends that c-stores should take note of is the recent addition of snack items to many menus. McDonald’s added snack wraps, KFC brought out snackers and Taco Bell promoted “the fourth meal”. That’s because a 2009 National Restaurant Association survey showed that 61 percent of consumers wanted smaller-sized portions at lower prices. Snacks especially appeal to the younger demographic of consumers who tend to eat on the run. 63 percent of those between ages 16 and 28 told the Center for Culinary Development that they grab a snack between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Mintel, a consumer intelligence firm, is predicting breakfast sales to grow by more than 4 percent this year. According to their brand new study, 66 percent of consumers are looking for healthier breakfast choices, which could explain the buzz about oatmeal lately. More than half of those surveyed said that convenience was important to them: They don’t have time to make breakfast at home during the week, so they stop for a breakfast sandwich, the most popular menu choice. So, with an eye on the need for something quick yet healthy, the Food Channel predicts the following breakfast items to become popular in 2011:
1. Oatmeal, the new superfood
2. It’s OK to eat chocolate in the morning
3. QSRs battling for breakfast dollars
4. Making coffee at home to save money
5. Ethnic dishes: breakfast quesadillas, bangers and mash
6. Energy drinks and berry juices
8. Breakfast all day long
9. Two breakfasts: a banana, yogurt, power bar or muffin for a mid-morning snack
Beat ’em at their game
C-stores may also want to take their cues from QSRs in terms of menus and promotional strategies. Study the competition’s sleek advertising and amp up your creative to match. Strong menu board graphics with mouthwatering photos will tempt the consumer at the pump to head in. Easy-to-switch-out daypart menu offerings will allow you to match the fast food operators’ quick-changing options for breakfast, lunch and/or snack time. Then consider mix-it-your-way bundles, combos and coupons to win the food service game.
So, with time, speed, price and an eager consumer base already on your side, it’s relatively easy to add the few remaining ingredients to your recipe for success. Isn’t it time you grew your brand into a restaurant that just happens to be attached to a gas station?