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MONTREAL -- Couche-Tard took a major step in reaching its goal of increasing foodservice sales throughout the chain yesterday with the official introduction of "Couche-Tard Menu" -- a new self-service convenience store concept for prepared and ready-to-eat meals and fresh food items.
As reported in a CSNews Online newsflash yesterday, the largest company-operated c-store chain in North America held a media event here in Montreal to celebrate the seven new Couche-Tard Menu stores in the Quebec province (one more is slated to open in July in Montreal-North).
"We developed Couche-Tard Menu for men and women with very active lifestyles who are looking for convenient, but healthy food choices," said Chantale Sajo, marketing director for the Canadian c-store chain.
The bright, boldly-signed stores carry a wide variety of brand name foods familiar in many Quebec supermarkets, including sushi, hearty soups, mousses, salads, smoothies, high-end Asian and Italian dishes, pizzas, pasta sauces, lasagna, wraps, breakfast sandwiches, fajitas, sorbets, pates, yogurts, low-calorie meals, desserts, Viennese pastries, cappuccinos, espressos, lattes and more. Pricing is competitive with supermarkets. (Click here to see the prepared food offering, and click here to see the baked goods case.)
In an interview with CSNews Online, Sajo and Business Development Manager Laura Gutierrez acknowledged that part of the challenge was introducing a new concept without alienating the retailer's core consumer base. However, she pointed out that the stores have been open for several weeks and that customer reaction has been positive.
"We believe 20 percent of our current store network in Quebec can be converted to this offering," Sajo continued. Among the criteria used to make that determination are space (the Menu stores have to be 1,200 square feet or bigger), sales potential, geography and surrounding demographics, and traffic patterns. The stores' product mix is designed to maximize food sales potential for morning, lunch and after-work shoppers.
The centerpiece of the Menu stores is a stainless steel counter with cold drinks and grab-and-go food items. The stores include a section of standard Couche-Tard convenience store products as well as a section of ready-to-eat items. Each store has a fully trained food advisor staffing the department to assist customers and ensure product freshness, added Gutierrez. (Click here to see the centerpiece.)
"Innovation is at the heart of our new offer," said Michel Bernard, vice president of Couche-Tard's Eastern Canada Operations, at the media gathering. "We are proud to provide our many loyal customers with practical solutions in the form of exclusive, innovative products, more than 80 percent of which come from Quebec."
Sajo told CSNews Online many of the local vendors developed products specifically for the new concept.
Menu is part of Couche-Tard's efforts to lift foodservice sales from 5 percent in stores with the traditional offer to 20 percent at the Couche-Tard Menu stores, Sajo added.
Couche-Tard spent $2 million renovating existing stores to implement the new concept at eight stores in the greater Montreal region. Being close to the head office in Laval (a Montreal suburb) allows for the quick reception of customer feedback, according to the company. (Click here to see the store banner)
The new Couche-Tard Menu branches are located at:
-- 1255 Notre-Dame West, Montreal;
-- 2500 Jean-Talon East, Montreal;
-- 4930 St-Charles Blvd., Pierrefonds;
-- 550 Cure-Labelle, Laval;
-- 40 Boulevard des Laurentides, Laval (Cartier metro station);
-- 125 Boulevard Archambault, I’ile Saint-Jean, Terrebonne;
-- 1049 Jean-Baptiste, Beloeil;
-- 8755 Boulevard Pie-IX, Montreal-North (July 2008).
Direct deliveries are made several times a week to each Couche-Tard Menu store from food suppliers, according to Gutierrez, who added that some items are delivered daily, such as fresh bakery items, to ensure freshness and quality. Gutierrez also pointed out that Couche-Tard Menu is unique to the chain's Quebec division, but noted that each of the retailer's 11 divisions in Canada and the United States are currently developing their own strategies and concepts to meet the company's foodservice growth goal.
"We're a very dynamic company and one of our strengths is that we are decentralized," Gutierrez told CSNews Online. "For example, in the West, they've developed the Take Away Cafe. There's a lot of sharing of best practices, but food is not like selling a case of beer. There are more differences by region. In Quebec, the trend is for healthy foods and Couche-Tard Menu is a result of that trend."
For the remaining Quebec stores that don't qualify to be converted to the Menu concept, Sajo confirmed that the company will evaluate the sales performance of every SKU and will likely determine that some of them could be deployed in the stores that don't get the full Menu offer.
To see images of Couche-Tard Menu, click the following links:
Couche-Tard Menu Banner
Baked Goods Case