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LAS VEGAS – Once a foodservice program is in place, what happens next?
The answer should be cutting down on complexity and "building a culture of simplicity," according to Joseph Chiovera, principal of XS Foodservice & Marketing Solutions, who moderated the "Evolving Your Foodservice Program" educational session at the 2015 NACS Show.
Simplicity is step two of his company's three-phase process for developing a foodservice program, coming after "foundation before differentiation" and before "nurturing greatness."
The key is developing the menu, which drives everything else. Chiovera compared the process to that of developing a high fuel efficiency car, which starts at the engine, not the decorative interior. "This is all about the engine," he said.
Steps in foodservice evolution include menu rationalization; product refinement and optimization, or getting more from the same or some of the same ingredients; design modification and improvement; and labor optimization.
The ability to integrate a culture of food and simplicity into an organization is paramount to reaching the customer, Chiovera said, but there is a difference between culture and strategy. "At the end of the day, strategy is about you. Culture is about your customers. Culture is about your associates," he said.
Chiovera also noted that for c-stores that have been working on their foodservice program for quite a while, "If you're asking the same questions three years later, you're asking the wrong questions."
To provide attendees with different c-store industry retailer perspectives on evolving a foodservice program, Steve Turner, director of foodservice and dispensed beverages for RaceTrac Petroleum Inc., and Keith Boston, director of prepared foods for Cumberland Farms Inc., discussed how their respective programs have changed in recent years.
RaceTrac has focused on three key areas: improving quality, improving presentation and simplifying processes.
By developing its supply chain to provide daily fresh food delivery, offering customized coffee and roller grill toppings, rolling out new fresh food packaging and creating "theater" with fixtures and marketing, the company significantly improved its foodservice program to a positive response from customers.
Turner noted the process involved creating a culture where it is OK to make mistakes, and even if certain tests failed, the company benefited if it was able to learn from its failures.
He also discussed inventory control vs. waste. If a c-store doesn't have to throw anything from its hot food case away at the end of the day, that's a reduction in waste. But if there is nothing to throw away because the store ran out of product too early in the day, that's just choking off sales.
While it can be tempting to go all-out when planning the next stage of a foodservice program, Boston recommends retailers start small and keep things simple in order to do it right. When Cumberland Farms began its foodservice rebranding initiative, it had to cope with a perception of low-quality products and services.
One change the chain made to combat this perception was stocking fresher items, including switching from cold packaged sandwiches coded for 28 days on the shelf to 10-day sandwiches. At $2 each, the new sandwiches are still a value offering, but they are of noticeably improved quality.
Boston also advised retailers to "cast a big net" with as few items as possible, sticking with the tried-and-true favorites. "There's not a lot of new products in the sandwich case," he said. However, selling the exact same products as the competition can be dangerous, as it places limits on price and margin.
Retailers should think in terms of a "bucket of ideas" containing what is possible today, what will be possible with some work, and what would be possible with some invention. Changing technology can help do tomorrow what you can't today.
Currently, Cumberland Farms is "not yet at a tipping point," but it is actively working on a five- or six-year plan to remodel or raze and rebuild all its stores. According to Boston, the chain got this far by actively engaging employees and customers regarding the foodservice program changes. Companies shouldn't be afraid to ask what would make an employee's job easier or ask customers what they think of their food and coffee, he said.