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Just four years after its launch, MAPCO Express is reportedly putting out the fire on its proprietary foodservice brand, Grille Marx, and replacing the program in several stores with Quiznos' convenience offering.
According to sources, the Brentwood, Tenn.-based retail division of Delek US Holdings is "in the process of converting the locations that make sense." Currently MAPCO has three stores switched to the sandwich franchise, and will have a total of 15 converted to Quiznos by mid-summer.
"[MAPCO] found out what many others have — it's so difficult to do a regional brand," one source told Convenience Store News. "Unless you have the pockets of King Midas, it's really hard to create and support your own [foodservice] brand."
In an August 2006 cover story, CSNews got an industry-first look at the Grille Marx program, which was created to be the centerpiece of the retailer's new store prototype, MAPCO Mart — the first of which debuted in December 2005.
When asked by CSNews about the switch from Grille Marx to Quiznos, company spokesperson Noel Ryan would only say MAPCO's food program is central to its long-term plan for strategic growth. Ryan declined to comment on any specific terms of the chain's QSR (quick-service restaurant) relationships.
In an interview with CSNews earlier this year, however, MAPCO execs noted one of the key themes of the company's new strategic plan is "the introduction of an enhanced, QSR-driven foodservice offering." And on the Delek US Web site, it states: "More recently, we have begun to selectively introduce fresh, proprietary, made-to-order meals in our newer prototype locations, while also selectively adopting quick-service restaurants such as Quiznos, Subway, Blimpie and others."
It is unclear just how many of the retailer's Grille Marx locations will ultimately be converted to Quiznos. MAPCO's move comes right as the restaurant chain is making an aggressive push into convenience stores, having revamped its platform within the channel and launched a new breakfast program specifically for its convenience store partners.
In an interview with CSNews, Shultz Hartgrove, senior vice president of convenience development for Quiznos, said the company is setting its expansion sights on the convenience industry because c-stores typically command the best real estate, which will translate into a lot of eyes on the Quiznos brand.
"We also see it as a great avenue for growth because we are able to solve a dilemma for c-store operators," he added. "Everybody sells $3 gas and has the same 20-ounce Cokes and king-size candy bars. We offer a way for them to distinguish themselves."
The sandwich chain, known for its hot-from-the-oven creations, currently has 175 convenience store locations, ranging from large chains such as The Pantry to independents. Store operators become Quiznos franchisees, paying the company an annual royalty fee and making a yearly advertising-fund contribution.
Hartgrove was brought on by Quiznos six months ago to develop a new c-store platform.
"We looked at how we can bring Quiznos inside and make it easier for the consumer, with the hope that they not only buy Quiznos but also other items in the c-store, raising the overall ticket and making that store a destination," he said.
Quiznos' revamped c-store platform includes a refreshed menu, which features only the top 80 percent of items from its traditional restaurants. It is designed with the core convenience customer in mind, with more chicken and beef selections, and fewer salads and soups.
The new convenience store program also incorporates:
Quiznos' recently launched eco-friendly packaging and uniforms;
Point-of-sale signage, including pump-toppers, in-store danglers and static clings; and,
A hot grab-and-go case to be positioned next to the operator's coffee offering.
One other major aspect of Quiznos' push into the convenience industry is a new breakfast menu.
"We had dabbled in breakfast at some of our traditional locations, but saw this as a big opportunity from the convenience standpoint," Hartgrove told CSNews. "We recognized there was a real void with the QSRs in convenience and breakfast. And 35 percent of all convenience store transactions are done at that drive time."
Quiznos' new c-store breakfast menu includes:
A country-style biscuit and egg sandwich offered with ham, sausage, etc.
Giant cinnamon roll with caramel topping.
Breakfast subs, toasted and available with eggs, cheese, ham, sausage, etc.
Breakfast Sammies, a spin on the breakfast taco that uses flatbread vs. a tortilla. Available in five varieties, the chain is positioning this as its "signature" breakfast item.