How to Better Communicate Your Bean-to-Cup Coffee Program to Customers

Over the last two years, bean-to-cup coffee programs have become more and more popular within the convenience store landscape. By individually grounding and brewing the beans, these new high-tech machines promise a fresh, hot cup of coffee on demand.

Putting customers in control of preparing their own brew allows store associates to focus on other tasks. Another positive associated with this innovative coffee service is that it helps eliminate excess waste as described by Kum & Go’s senior category manager, fountain beverages, Connie Kelehan.

What’s not to love.

Change Can Cause Confusion

Whenever retailers introduce new technology, such as bean-to-cup coffeemaking to their customers, situations can arise. As with everything new, there’s a learning curve. Shoppers may not know how to use the new machines.

Adapting to new tech takes a few go-rounds. From that first time standing in front of a “place your own order” sandwich kiosk or “mix-your-own soda” style machine, everyone has experienced that “What do I do?” or “How do I do this?” moment. Whether it’s short on time or other customers lining up, the pressure builds to hurry up and get that order placed. It’s uncomfortable and can lead to a negative customer experience and maybe even a missed sale.

GSP created this easy step-by-by step direction with frame kit signage for MAPCO’s bean-to-cup customers.

How to Create a Better Coffee Making Experience

“A simple way to solve customer confusion is by providing them easy-to-follow instructions illustrating how to use the new machines,” suggests GSP Chief Creative Officer Steven Cohen. “Why not create point-of-purchase (POP) instructions written and designed to match the c-store retailers’ brand?” added Steven.

Here are some examples of how GSP’s team of design, marketing and visual merchandising experts can help develop instructions tailored to your stores and can even provide the hardware system that houses the signage. This system can be switched up with a variety of messaging anytime and is constructed to fit and work with most coffee setups.

Why Stop With Coffee? More Messaging Ideas

In addition to the new brewers, other programs and equipment may seem slightly tricky to shoppers. Clear communication is the key to creating positive customer experiences.

Consider creating similar how-to or simplified step-by-step signage for the following:

  • Rewards and Loyalty Programs – you’ve excited your customer, now make sure they know how and where to download apps, how to earn points or access mobile app offers.
  • Car Wash – from how to pay to possible car wash loyalty programs, put c-store shoppers’ minds at ease as to how to use the equipment or how to earn free future washes.
  • Curbside Pickup – do customers know the drill for picking up curbside or mobile orders? If not, signage letting them know you need the make and model of their vehicle and how long they should expect to wait, can help.

Providing shoppers with a few simple words can go along way when it comes to direction and keeping the flow of customers moving. To hear more tips and tricks or to get started on signage geared toward assisting your customers, contact us today. 

Separating Glamour from Reality in Foodservice Photography

A Behind the Scenes Look at the Art of Food Photography

Food images in today’s advertisements and packaging are glamourized versions of the actual product. Professional food photography is truly an art and a collaborative effort, usually involving an art director, a photographer, a food stylist, a prop stylist and their assistants.

The goal of food photography is to help create the consumer expectation for the product and that requires the best possible image available. Beautifully shot food images will whet the customers’ appetite and entice them to buy or try something new.

The actual product may not look the exactly the same, but it still has all the same ingredients that are shown in the photograph. As noted recently by fast food giant McDonalds, “The burger at the restaurant is optimized for eating and the photo burger is optimized for looking delicious.”

After a customer asked Mcdonald’s, “Why does your food look different in the advertising than what is in the store?” Hope Bagozzi, McDonald’s Canada Director of Marketing, proceeds over the following three-and-half minutes to explain how and why this is done:

In the video, Begozzi demonstrates how a Quarter Pounder with Cheese is deconstructed and rebuilt by professional food stylists so that all the ingredients are visible. The onions and pickles are all hand placed. The mustard and catsup are put into place with a syringe. The resulting product looks fantastic. And every ingredient used in the shoot was an actually item used in the store. Once photographed, the picture of the burger is tweaked, digitally removing any blemishes.

Building your foodservice offering must follow a similar path. Product selection and pricing are critical for success. So is setting consumer expectations of your food. With food photography, the ingredients are deliberately and carefully placed so that each is visible in the most flattering way possible to the viewer. This enables you to let customers know what they’re getting. Using the same ingredients but arranging them to highlight the flavor and combination allows foodservice marketers to set consumer expectations.

Top 20 Food Trends for 2014

The National Restaurant Association recently released a list of “What’s Hot in 2014 Culinary Forecast” from its survey of nearly 1,300 chefs.  The “Top 20 Trends” list stands out from the results.  See the list below or view the full report here.

  1. Locally sourced meats and seafood
  2. Locally grown produce
  3. Environmental sustainability
  4. Healthful kids’ meals
  5. Gluten-free cuisine
  6. Hyper-local sourcing (e.g. restaurant gardens)
  7. Children’s nutrition
  8. Non-wheat noodles/pasta (e.g. quinoa, rice, buckwheat)
  9. Sustainable seafood
  10. Farm/estate branded items
  11. Nose-to-tail/root-to-stalk cooking (e.g. reduce food waste by using entire animal/plant)
  12. Whole grain items in kids’ meals
  13. Health/nutrition
  14. New cuts of meat (e.g. Denver steak, pork flat iron, tri-tip)
  15. Ancient grains (e.g. kamut, spelt, amaranth)
  16. Ethnic-inspired breakfast items (e.g. Asian-flavored syrups, Chorizo scrambled eggs, coconut milk pancakes)
  17. Grazing (e.g. small-plate sharing/snacking instead of traditional meals)
  18. Non-traditional fish (e.g. branzino, Arctic char, barramundi)
  19. Fruit/vegetable children’s side items
  20. Half-portions/smaller portions for a smaller price

The common theme throughout is healthy and locally grown food.  Consumers are becoming more conscious about what they are eating. Of the members surveyed, 59% said that they would be making efforts to adjust their eating habits and dishes/recipes to include healthier options.

How retailers can maximize these healthy trends
Understand what your customers want.  Keep track of new healthy foods that people order and create promotions around those new products. The best way to promote these products is to use beautifully shot food images that will whet the customers’ appetite and entice them to buy or try something new.

See Also: Retailer Focus: Panera Bread

Good Photography vs Bad Photography
The key to effectively promoting food offerings is outstanding food photography – photography that makes the food look as good as it tastes. Bad photography will not interest customers or get your food items noticed. Utilize photographers, stylists and art directors to create professionally styled food images that can be used for menu boards, POP and online advertising.


In comparing the strawberry images above, the strawberries on the left are more appetizing due to the lighting and white bowl, which is the perfect backdrop for strong color.  Showcasing how fresh and “healthy” the fruit looks, goes in line with the trends.

Source: What’s Hot in 2014 Culinary Forecast
Image Source: Richard North

Three Keys to Successful Foodservice Reimaging

Utilize Food Photography, Custom Fixtures and Menuboards to Realize ROI

A foodservice reimaging project is an ideal way to enhance your overall store appeal as well as to drive foodservice sales. Yet beyond changes in décor elements such as cabinetry and wall paper, retailers should consider what customers expect from preferred foodservice providers. Below are three components that can play a major role in enhancing consumers’ perception of a retailer’s foodservice offering.


Food Photography

Investing in new photography is a must for any foodservice reimaging project. For most leading QSRs, the key to effectively promoting food offerings is photography that makes the food look as good as it tastes. Beautifully shot food images whet the customers’ appetite and can entice them to buy or try something new.

Unique Fixtures

Incorporating custom industrial design elements for point of purchase graphics, product displays or shelving units is another key component for a successful foodservice reimaging project. Create impact and grab the customer’s attention with innovative kiosks or standees to clearly communicate and promote new fresh food offerings and special promotions.

Make sure the various industrial design elements utilized in store have a cohesive uniform look and blend with the store décor and brand. Invest in elements that will facilitate changes in menu and pricing. In addition, evaluate and take into consideration budget, shipping logistics, ease of installation, and every inch of the store to help maximize display space and sales.


Innovative Menu Systems

The menu system is one of the most critical components of a foodservice reimage project. If using digital menus, consider how display cabinets or graphics can make the menus fit store décor and look less like an appliance. If using traditional menus, consider how to make the menus blend with store décor and represent your foodservice brand.

Solidify your brand, create consistency across all stores and drive repeat business through a combination of food photography, unique fixtures and innovative menuboards for your next store reimaging project.

Filling Stomachs As Well As Gas Tanks

C-stores Have Quick and Convenient Food Service Advantage

Entice at the Pump

“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?

Advantage, c-store
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.

Snack attack
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.

Champion breakfast
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
7. Pizza!
8. Breakfast all day long
9. Two breakfasts: a banana, yogurt, power bar or muffin for a mid-morning snack
10. Eggs

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?

A Recipe For Perfection in Food Service Photography

Winning the Food Service Customer – Starts with Great Photography

Beautiful photos of tempting food choices don’t happen by accident. The client, art director, food stylist and photographer all play an important role in this collaborative effort. Good communication is key to keep all the parties informed. The client brings product insight and shares the specific goals and objectives of the food program. The art director helps to shape the marketing strategies and acts as liaison between the client and photographer, balancing the needs of both. The food stylist turns the product into art, making the food look more photogenic by creating the proper visual presentation. The photographer adds the technical knowledge, perfects the light, the focus and angles that capture the most appealing food texture, color and image possible.

What can you expect at a food photography shoot? Below are a few points that I feel are important to remember before embarking on one:

First of all it is not as easy as it looks, the simplest food shot make take hours to complete, this is a process that cannot be rushed if perfection is the goal.

Professional Quality – Attention to detail and the ability to convey quality and flavor will really make or break your food service program. There really is a difference between a “regular” all-purpose photographer and an experienced photographer that specializes in food services, so don’t compromise. A food photographer uses special lenses, mirrors, reflectors, techniques and photo equipment that the other won’t possess. You definitely don’t want the competition to beat you on this all-important element.

Image Intentions – Before shooting, it’s imperative to have a clear understanding of how you intend to use the food images. Will they be silhouetted on a menu board or other background? Tightly cropped or shown in an environmental shot? Do you need to leave room for copy in the photo or will it go underneath? Are you using a vertical, horizontal or square composition? It is important to know up front and very difficult to change after the fact. Just know that your art department will have a heck of a time trying to add background to a shot later if you change your mind.

Style Consistency – All items within the program should be shot in a similar style for the most pleasing presentation. For optimum results, utilize this best practice: Have all items shot by the same photographer at one shoot. Although it requires more upfront planning, in the long run, this will save time, keep you organized and also be the most cost-efficient method. Consider multiple uses for your photographs to stretch your dollar farther. How can you amortize the expense and reuse the images in future promotional efforts?

Set The Standard – A basic standards guide will help maintain the original intent for the photography. Communicate the project details with the team, including the number of shots, propping and background, mood you want to convey, even product usage. Agree on an estimate and schedule before the shoot begins. Know your “look” so that you don’t have to reshoot everything later to match a new look. Otherwise, a good photographer should ask plenty of questions and help compose a guide with you.

Product Truth – Yes, you want to tempt the eye and the palette with photos good enough to eat. However, despite the aesthetic appeal and colorful contrasts, you must also stay true to what the customer will actually purchase in store. If the product looks beautiful but it doesn’t look like what you sell, it will confuse your staff and customers alike. A good photographic team can make your item look as amazing as possible without over-styling. Don’t be surprised if the stylist asks you for or creates his own food “stand-in”– a replica of your product’s size, shape and surface texture for the photographer to test his lighting and composition until the hero item hits the set. NOTE: Some items should be left off the set as they may be delicious to the taste but will never photograph well. There’s nothing wrong with shooting those products in their packaging.

And, finally, clients usually say that they want their food photography to look natural. People have certain expectations about what “natural” looks like and it may vary from person to person–even between you and the photographer. Certain environments and background colors can make the food appear unnatural and unappealing. Natural also means the food may look better arranged in a more casual manner. (Perhaps all of the layers of your deli sandwich shouldn’t be perfectly aligned.) Allow your team some flexibility here to create settings that fit the food. Be open to new options but know that the ultimate decision is yours.

Driving Food Service Profit

One menuboard at a time

Food service is everywhere now – and if you aren’t currently doing it, you are likely considering it and its impact to your overall business. In order to drive your message to the consumer, you need to have the mainstay of a good food service program, the menuboard.

There are many options available in all shapes and sizes. It is critical to ensure you have the “right” one however, as it will improve sales (typically 10-15% increase) and dramatically improve product awareness (and trial).

Without doubt, there are many challenges as you approach the implementation and rollout of a menuboard project. QSR magazine suggests 7 rules to great menuboard design:

1) Conduct sales analysis – know what sells and your profits per item
2) Allocate menuboard space based on sales – best sellers should be visually more impactful
3) Leverage hot spots – consumers look at one area first – focus on it
4) Optimize navigation – think like your customer. What will they order next?
5) Analyze hardware – can you easily change dayparts?
6) Strive for graphic excellence – your customer has to be able to read it
7) Analyze results and continually improve – make changes as required

Retailers must work to ensure that the design of the menuboard is flexible enough to accommodate the various size spaces – from the largest to the smallest areas across the chain. Modular designs help to ensure that costs can be kept to a minimum while providing maximum graphic and daypart flexibility.

Many consider a digital menuboard a way to increase sales yet there no empirical evidence that digital menuboards improve sales over a traditional, well designed menuboard system.

Driving food service profits rely on several factors from product selection, service levels and overall program quality. Once these are in place and working, you need a place to shout out to your consumers about your product selection and value. A well designed, cost efficient menuboard will help you communicate this and build consumer loyalty over the long term. Bon appétit!