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From innovation in menu development to creative money-making promotions, this year?s Convenience Store News Foodservice Innovators Awards winners show why they are helping to revolutionize consumer perceptions about convenience foodservice offerings.
Presented in partnership with Tyson Foods, the Foodservice Innovators Awards recognize convenience retail leaders that are raising the bar on quality, service and innovation in this fast-growing and critically important product category for c-stores.
Winners were chosen by CSNews? 18-member How To Do World-Class Foodservice ?How To Crew,? made up of experts from the retailer, supplier, research and consulting fields.
There are six award categories. Gold and silver medals were awarded in each category.
FOODSERVICE INNOVATOR OF THE YEAR, GOLD MEDAL
Maverik Inc., North Salt Lake City, Utah
Although Maverik is already renowned for its adventure-themed store environment, great customer service and broad product offering, the How To Crew judges placed the chain at the top of the pack this year for a number of innovations that began in 2014 and are continuing and evolving.
These important innovations include:
- Reorganizing its physical stores and product merchandising to enhance the communication of its broad offering. Thus, the retailer is better able to help its customers fill eating use occasions from a huge combination of offerings.
- Significantly reducing its inventory of underperforming products to make room for more impact from its best-sellers, for new product innovation, and for customers and service. Essentially, a c-store foodservice interpretation of the traditional retail 80/20 rule.
- Increasing its stores? focus on Maverik?s fresh foodservice brand Bonfire by visually and physically bringing the fresh food offer forward in the store. ?Adventure?s First Stop? ? the stores? tagline ? features the Bonfire Grill?s open display kitchen front and center as the centerpiece of the store.
- Bringing a laser focus to its fresh food and beverage offer to target customers? needs and wants ? all in relation to a deep and broad awareness of its competitive market. Maverik?s fresh food and beverage launches this year include the ciabatta pizza program, ?Mix-It-Up? fountain program, Biscuits n? Gravy, and the Fresh Cookie ?Flash Sale.? All of these new programs demonstrate product and marketing innovation at work.
- Refocusing staff training and operations on improving both the reality and perception of freshly prepared and custom-assembled food specialties as the heroes of its product lines.
- Refining strategic and tactical philosophy and activities to bring these improvements to customers in a consistent and meaningful way.
All this taken together is the Maverik way of serving and delighting its customer communities. In combination, these components are positioning Maverik to make the quantum leap from being ?very good? to ?great? and, in the opinion of the judges, worthy of the CSNews Foodservice Innovator of the Year gold medal for 2014.
FOODSERVICE INNOVATOR OF THE YEAR, SILVER MEDAL
Rutter?s Farm Stores, York, Pa.
Rutter?s is a perennial convenience foodservice innovator. While the chain takes home silver this year, Rutter?s won the gold medal in this same category in 2012 and last year, it was honored with the gold medal in the Best Prepared Foods Innovator category.
Rutter?s continuously innovates its prepared food menu and stretches into uncharted convenience store territory with new, unique menu items such as:
- Made-to-order dinner bowls
- Fried turkey legs
- Mexican fare including Frito pies, tacos and quesadillas
- A deep menu of cold and hot sandwiches
- Ultimate burgers and sliders
- Stromboli and pizza
- Fun sides and snacks
- A deep breakfast menu
- Consistent healthy fare with wraps, unique salads and soups
Just recently, the chain also rolled out BBQ Short Ribs and Italian desserts including cannoli. Rutter?s continuously adds new flavors and varieties to its menu and the retailer is both strategic and fearless ? when new items are rolled out, they are executed flawlessly.
BEST PREPARED FOODS INNOVATOR, GOLD MEDAL
Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes, Canastota, N.Y.
Nice N Easy was the silver medalist for Best Prepared Foods Innovator in 2012 and the silver medal winner for Best New Foodservice Program in 2013. This year, the central New York State chain of about 80 stores ? recently acquired by Texas-based CST Brands Inc. ? captures the gold in the Best Prepared Foods Innovator category.
Nice N Easy consistently executes outstanding food, both hot and cold, and continuously innovates and refines its menu. Instead of offering too many different categories, the chain has deep offerings in a few main categories:
- 14 varieties of appetizers
- Seven types of hot subs
- A dozen different sandwiches and wraps
- Four varieties of fresh salads
- A dozen sandwich melts
- 14 types of deluxe gourmet pizza
- Breakfast pizza and other breakfast and bakery fare
Nice N Easy also offers a few hot dinner entrees, including Beer Battered Fish & Chips, Mac N Beef, Mac N Cheese, Chili, and Chicken Pot Pies.
In July, Nice N Easy expanded its breakfast offering by introducing its first wrap: an Italian Sausage Breakfast Wrap made with sausage, eggs, cheese, green peppers and onions.
As a strong regional player, Nice N Easy is lauded for incorporating regional food favorites into its menu, and its foodservice team includes two great chefs.
BEST PREPARED FOODS INNOVATOR, SILVER MEDAL
Kwik Trip Inc., La Crosse, Wis.
Kwik Trip, the 450-store Midwest retailer, has been making a lot of news lately with its innovative growth into alternative fuels, particularly developing a compressed natural gas infrastructure across Wisconsin, Mnnesota and Iowa. But the convenience retailer built a reputation with its fresh daily food program, from baked goods such as Glazers doughnuts to sandwiches to pizza. (Its Dollar Slice Day is one of the retailer?s top promotions.)
?Kwik Trip?s ability to deliver fresh foods to its stores six to seven days a week gives it a huge innovation advantage over most c-stores,? said one CSNews How To Crew judge.
?Big on Fresh, Low on Price? is the mantra of this vertically integrated retailer, which has its own centralized commissary, bakery, dairy, soda and water bottling plants, and handles its own distribution of fresh product to its stores on a daily basis.
As one of the first c-store chains to introduce a low-calorie, healthy menu, Kwik Trip in March began implementing a new EATSmart program and other policies that promote healthy eating habits among consumers. Recently, Kwik Trip debuted an egg white, ham and cheese on English muffin sandwich. The retailer this year also started a Healthy Concessions Program that allows organizations to purchase healthier items at discounted prices to use in their fundraising efforts.
To create continued excitement in its prepared foods, Kwik Trip has been more aggressive than ever with limited-time offers this year. New bakery items have debuted every two to three months, and the same timetable is being applied to its sandwiches and hot case. This strategy enables the retailer to incorporate new items into its menu with low risk.
BEST HOT BEVERAGES INNOVATOR, GOLD MEDAL
QuickChek Corp., Whitehouse Station, N.J.
Offering a wide variety of high-quality coffee beverages, QuickChek is a ?best-in-class? operator in the convenience hot beverage category. The chain of 140 convenience stores in New Jersey and the Hudson Valley of New York won this same award in 2012 and last year, it was the silver medal winner in the Foodservice Innovator of the Year category.
The retailer uses a timer program that always ensures consistent fresh coffee, and there?s a dedicated, friendly coffee host/hostess (or barista) in each store who provides excellent customer interaction and service.
QuickChek?s hot beverage program layout enables optimal customer flow, as the ?Q Coffee? area feels like a coffee shop within the convenience store. A variety of fresh condiments, driven by customer preference and requests, is available and if a customer asks for a unique condiment, they?ll do their best to provide it.
The retailer?s innovation continued this year as it launched a new espresso program and other specialty beverages aimed at trading customers up to a higher price/register ring, while also providing high-quality products and customer value.
?QuickChek does an excellent, very consistent job in program offering with high product quality and presentation,? said one retailer on the CSNews How To Crew.
Consumers appear to agree. In a recent survey conducted by Technomic, a foodservice industry research firm, QuickChek was voted No. 1 among the top c-store chains for overall beverage quality.
BEST HOT BEVERAGES INNOVATOR, SILVER MEDAL
Wawa Inc., Wawa, Pa.
Last year, Wawa was the gold medal winner for Foodservice Innovator of the Year and before that, it was the silver medalist in the hot beverages category. Then and now, CSNews? How To Crew judges rave about the 650-plus-store chain?s hot beverages program.
Since 2000, Wawa has served more than a billion cups of coffee and commands a significant market share of the brewed coffee market, ranking No. 1 in Philadelphia and No. 7 nationally.
In his recently published book, ?The Wawa Way,? former CEO Howard Stoeckel points out that the retailer?s product development team includes coffee specialists who conduct sensory testing and develop specifications for all the various blends and roasts sold. Offerings include regular, decaf and varietals: French vanilla, hazelnut, Columbian and dark roast.
CSNews? How To Crew judges cited Wawa?s barista-served beverages that ?rival Starbucks? and noted the retailer?s addition of new flavors and drink offerings.
Coffee continues to be key to Wawa?s drive to better position its stores to be a solution for customers? needs during their busy daily lives.
BEST COLD & FROZEN BEVERAGES INNOVATOR, GOLD MEDAL
7-Eleven Inc., Dallas
Judges gave 7-Eleven, the silver medalist in this category two years ago, credit for a number of innovations around cold and frozen beverages, earning it the gold medal this year.
7-Eleven, the nation?s largest c-store chain, is particularly recognized for creating innovative and unexpected Slurpee flavor offerings, such as:
- Its first regional Slurpee flavor, the Vernors Slurpee, offered at 200 stores in Michigan. Vernors, the oldest surviving ginger ale brand, was created in 1866 in a downtown Detroit pharmacy and remains a statewide favorite. The Vernors Slurpee, which debuted in May, was a hit with 7-Eleven customers in the area.
- An exclusive Sprite 6 Mix Slurpee inspired by NBA star LeBron James. Developed in partnership with the basketballer, Sprite 6 Mix combines the taste of traditional Sprite with natural cherry and orange flavors. Sprite 6 Mix by LeBron James is also the first Slurpee drink to tout a famous athlete?s name.
- On the Slurpee?s 49th birthday, 7-Eleven introduced two limited-edition Slurpee flavors for the summer: Lemonade and Slurpee Lite Sugar-Free Fanta Watermelon Punch.
On the marketing front, 7-Eleven gave Slurpee a fun twist this summer by offering 26-ounce refillable, plastic Mason jar mugs with drink straws that have mustaches attached. The novelty jars and straws came in four styles and colors, and retailed for 99 cents each.
BEST COLD & FROZEN BEVERAGES INNOVATOR, SILVER MEDAL
QuikTrip Corp., Tulsa, Okla.
QuikTrip, the Oklahoma-based chain of 700 convenience stores in 11 states and several large metropolitan markets, claims to be the first retailer to offer self-serve fountain drinks, and the company?s cold and frozen dispensed beverages have served as a forerunner to its evolution into a superior all-around convenience foodservice retailer.
QT won the gold medal in this same category in 2012 and last year, it was the gold medal winner for Best Hot Beverages Innovator.
In its new-build and remodeled ?Generation 3? stores ? designed based on years of asking customers what they would like to see, taking those thoughts and then determining what would work ? the retailer offers a multitude of dispensed beverage options including:
- Traditional fountain drinks
- Fresh-brewed iced teas
- Lemonades and limeades
- Flavor shots
The stores also feature the coldest drink QT has to offer: its icy, flavor-infused Freezoni frozen drinks. Customers can mix and match their favorite beverage forms and flavors to create a customized drink, plus they can add in a fountain flavor, syrup, creamer or whipped topping.
Customized beverages also take center stage in the form of QuikTrip?s specialty beverage bar, which is part of its larger QT Kitchens initiative. Staffed by associates, the QT Kitchens concept offers fresh, made-to-order food and beverages, including specialty drinks and soft-serve ice cream.
?The expansion of beverages in the new QT Kitchen stores is one of the most impressive in the industry,? said one retailer member of the How To Crew, who added that the chain?s brewed tea lineup is ?way above anywhere else.?
BEST NEW FOODSERVICE PROGRAM, GOLD MEDAL
Casey?s General Stores Inc., Ankeny, Iowa
Casey?s is this year?s gold medal winner in the Best New Foodservice Program category for innovations in its robust pizza business, including its new, unique standalone pizza store. The Midwest chain of more than 1,800 stores was honored with a silver medal as Foodservice Innovator of the Year in 2012, when it first began offering pizza delivery, which has now spread to more than 225 of its stores.
This year, CSNews? How To Crew lauded Casey?s new Pizza Express location in Pleasant Hill, Iowa, as an innovative addition to its drive to dominate the pizza business in its markets.
The retailer?s first standalone pizza restaurant is a 1,600-square-foot location that offers pizza (whole and by the slice), chicken wings, breadsticks, fountain drinks and a self-serve frozen yogurt bar. Pizza Express does not sell traditional c-store products, such as cigarettes, groceries or doughnuts.
Though still a test concept, Casey?s earlier this year announced plans to open five more Pizza Express locations in the Des Moines, Iowa, metro area.
Another way Casey?s is growing its already-bustling pizza business is with line extensions. After testing a new flatbread pizza line in the inaugural Pizza Express location, Casey?s decided to roll it out chainwide in January. This thin-crust version is priced the same as its traditional pizza at $11.99 for a large, single-topping pie and $15.99 for specialty varieties.
BEST NEW FOODSERVICE PROGRAM, SILVER MEDAL
QuikTrip, Tulsa, Okla.
QuikTrip picks up its second silver medal this year in the Best New Foodservice Program category for its new QT Kitchens concept, universally lauded by the How To Crew.
After initially testing the fresh-made food program, QT quickly began rolling it out across its ample footprint. The chain expected to finish the rollout of QT Kitchens to all its stores scheduled for a remodel by October, just nine months after the project began.
The QT Kitchens program offers fresh, made-to-order food and beverages, such as flatbreads and sandwiches, kolaches, specialty drinks, soft-serve ice cream and whole or by-the-slice pizza, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
BEST FOODSERVICE LIMITED-TIME OFFER/PROMOTION, GOLD MEDAL
Kangaroo Express, Cary, N.C.
Kangaroo Express, the main store brand of The Pantry Inc., which operates more than 1,500 c-stores in the southeastern United States, brought back its renowned Roo Cup ? a collectible cup refillable with any fountain or frozen beverage ? this year for the hot summer season.
In April, the chain gave Roo Cup fans the chance to register and reserve ? or ?ROOserve? ? their cup one week early if they reserved it on the chain?s Facebook page or via the Kangaroo Express mobile app. Those who made a reservation received a certificate via email or on the mobile app?s Deals page with details on how to redeem the certificate in-store and purchase their cup on April 24. The Roo Cup was fully released to the public May 1.
The 2014 Roo Cup retailed for $6.99 plus tax and could be refilled with any fountain or frozen beverage for 25 cents from May 1 through Sept. 30, almost a full month longer than last year.
Roo Cup customization options, such as colored straws, returned alongside new deals. For example, during ?Straw Days,? fans with a specific color straw could redeem a free Roo Cup refill. Kangaroo Express also offered a free Roo Cup refill with the purchase of a grill item at grill-ready stores and snacks in a Roo Cup display for 75 cents.
The retailer also asked Roo Cup fans to share their summer Roo Cup experiences through social media using the hashtag #ROOCup.
BEST FOODSERVICE LIMITED-TIME OFFER/PROMOTION, SILVER MEDAL
Maverik, North Salt Lake City, Utah
Maverik is the silver medal winner for Best Foodservice Limited-Time-Offer/Promotion this year for not one, but two unique promos.
The MOAB, or Mother of All Burritos, grew out of Maverik?s recognition that its customers love high-quality burritos. The retailer also recognized the success of large burrito offerings at other restaurants like Chipotle, so Maverik was determined to create one burrito to ?rule them all.?
The MOAB solved the customer breakfast question of ?Which part of the pig do I want to eat today?? by including sausage, ham and, of course, bacon, all in one mega burrito. Maverik also added twice the eggs and hash browns, all wrapped up in an extra-large, 13-inch tortilla.
The retailer generated buzz about the MOAB with irreverent and edgy advertising. The promo was successful in trading customers up to a higher price/register ring and with a greater profit. Without launching at a discounted retail, the MOAB quickly rose to Maverik?s No.1 breakfast item in sales, profit and number of units sold.
The other promo was the retailer?s Fourth of July Fresh Cookie ?Flash Sale.? Maverik developed this buy-one, get-one-free promotional vehicle to help stores sell more product, while rewarding customers with a great treat on an important travel day of the year.
Maverik advertised the Flash Sale to its 400,000 loyalty club members via an email ?flash? message. The company?s chief operating officer challenged the retailer?s operations team to sell as many fresh cookies as they could, with some enticing incentives for the company, the top store performers and the top Adventure Guide (store associate) for reaching the goal.
On the day of the promotion, Maverik increased fresh cookie sales by 1,227 percent over the prior year and achieved a company per-day sales milestone.