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Pizza is one of the most popular foods in the United States. In a recent study by Rassmussen Reports, 18 percent of American adults ate pizza at least once a week. And according to a recent Gallup Poll, children aged 3 to 11 prefer pizza over all other foods for lunch and dinner.
For convenience stores, pizza is a billion-dollar market with a huge opportunity for growth. Capturing the best sales requires proper training, fresh product, adequate visibility, topping variety, community involvement, cleanliness and a commitment to foodservice.
Proper Training: Making great pizza requires knowledge of the crust, sauce, cheese, toppings and, most importantly, oven temperature and cooking time. A combination of video-based and hands-on training allows employees the opportunity to get up to speed quickly. Training employees about all aspects of pizza will make them appear more knowledgeable and feel more professional -- and that will translate into a better-tasting pizza and a more favorable consumer experience.
Fresh Product: Pizza is best served fresh and hot, with melting cheese and a soft, chewy crust. This can pose a challenge for c-stores, though. Pizza has a limited shelf life. We recommend it be held hot for 45 minutes or less. With the proper warming equipment, such as a humidified pizza warmer, pizza stays fresh, warm and visibly appealing to customers.
Adequate Visibility: Customers tend to eat with their eyes first. Studies show they are more likely to purchase a product that looks hot and fresh. Glass warming shelves and product boxes featuring cellophane windows are ideal because customers know what they’re getting with just a glance. They want to know what the toppings are on a pizza to make sure they are getting what they want. Appearance matters.
Topping Variety: By offering a variety of toppings, you ensure that your customers will have their pizza when they want it and the way they want it. In addition, seasonal, limited-time offer pizzas can help keep the offering fresh and relevant to the time of year. Customers look forward to these specials every year at the same time.
Community Involvement: C-store owners differentiate themselves from competitors and other national brands by investing and aligning in the local community. Involvement with local youth organizations, non-profits or community foundations allows store owners to give back to their customers in a personal way. We have found that combining a fundraising event with pizza is a great way to introduce families and women to a local convenience store. The store owner gets potential customers to try the product and the customers feel good about coming back for more. It leads to the store becoming a destination for pizza based on the loyalty gained from the fundraiser.
Cleanliness: C-stores are now considered more of a foodservice destination instead of just a retail store. This means consumers will evaluate the store as their "restaurant" of choice based on the cleanliness of the counters, floors and bathrooms. It is imperative that these areas be cleaned regularly throughout the day to show customers the store is committed to serving quality food in a clean environment. Customers are looking for clues to tell them that proper food handling practices are in place. ServSafe training classes are the best way to train employees on food safety. This gives the employee the confidence to do the right thing with food handling and personal hygiene.
Commitment to Foodservice: One of the most important indicators of success with foodservice in convenience stores is the commitment to the program by employees and management. Foodservice needs a higher level of dedication than other categories within the store. It takes time to build a level of trust with customers. Upon seeing that a store is committed to serving quality food after repeated visits, they will then make the decision to try a product. They also will choose to not purchase food from that store if product selection, quality or freshness is below expectations. It will take time and effort to get a customer to change his or her mind after a bad experience. Make sure your employees have a clear list of responsibilities for every daypart so that all foodservice items are prepared and served properly. Store management also needs to take the time to monitor and inspect food quality on a regular basis.
Keith Solsvig is vice president of marketing for Hunt Brothers Pizza. He is responsible for all marketing, branding, promotions, research and sponsorships for the company’s 6,400 locations. Prior to joining Hunt Brothers, he was a product manager for Tyson Foods. Solsvig also has more than 15 years of foodservice experience as the category manager of foodservice for both ExxonMobil On the Run and Thorntons Quick Café and Market stores.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.