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Successful convenience stores infuse themselves into the neighborhoods they serve and become instilled in the lives of those who live and work there. Two retailers on opposite sides of the country — Valero Retail Holdings and NOCO Energy Corp. — are taking the local connection a step further by injecting homespun flair into their foodservice.
In San Antonio, Valero features a "signature item" at its Corner Stores that draws its roots from the Czech communities established in Central Texas. The Kolache is a pastry typically filled with fruits, cheeses and meats stuffed inside a bread roll.
Launched in January 2008, Valero now offers Kolaches in 288 stores. Shipped frozen to the stores, the products go through a 24-hour proofing process before being baked daily. In every store possible, the oven is located directly behind the counter, so customers can see the items coming out hot and fresh, and then being placed in the warmer, Valero's senior category manager of foodservice Geoff DeCastro told Convenience Store News. At press time, the hot Kolaches were being promoted at two for $3.
The convenience retailer chose the Kolache as its signature item because the majority of its company-operated stores are located in Texas, where the Kolache is a popular item, but not widely available. DeCastro said there are historical Kolache shops, some doughnut stores and few small convenience store chains that sell them.
"For us, it met all the criteria of the ultimate grab-and-go item. They are well suited for breakfast — our best daypart — and can be sold at lunch," he said.
Valero continues to innovate around the Kolache, introducing a limited-time offer every three months or so. This summer, stores will feature a Bacon and Cream Cheese variety. The company also plans to offer Kolaches in every store where food is added.
Like Valero, NOCO Energy's NOCO Express chain of convenience stores is tapping into the unique flavors of its operating area. As of press time, NOCO was getting ready to open two branded food concepts — both new to the company, but well established in its core Buffalo, N.Y. market and throughout the Western New York area.
The first, Just Pizza, is a full-service pizzeria franchise with 13 existing locations across Western New York. The second, Mighty Taco, is a restaurant chain with 16 area locations known for its "Buffalo-styled" Mexican food and quirky advertising. NOCO is running the Just Pizza location as a franchisee, and renting out space to Mighty Taco.
Terry Messmer, NOCO's merchandising manager, told CSNews the retailer is starting out by adding each of the concepts to one existing store, with hopes of expanding into additional stores if these first locations perform well.
"Both are real local favorites," he said.
Valero and NOCO's initiatives are certainly on trend. Four of the National Restaurant Association's top 20 trends for this year related to local and regional influences — locally grown produce (No. 1); locally sourced meats and seafood (No. 2); locally produced wine and beer (No. 5); and regional ethnic cuisine (No. 17).
It's time for more convenience retailers to think locally if they aren't already.