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ELLSWORTH, Maine — If you’ve ever questioned what an energy company knows about foodservice innovation, R.H. Foster Energy LLC has the answer with its new convenience store prototype in Ellsworth: “More than you’d expect.”
Opened for business on July 21 and located on the corner of Elm and High streets in Ellsworth, this prototype store not only ushers in a new c-store design for the Hampden, Maine-based company, but also a whole new brand for its convenience stores — Freshies.
This moniker was previously reserved only for R.H. Foster’s deli concept. The foodservice-focused Freshies prototype in Ellsworth is the first location to be completely branded as Freshies — and is step No. 1 in a new five-year plan for R.H. Foster, Brenda Gerow, the company’s executive manager, told Convenience Store News.
As the U.S. convenience store landscape began shifting its focus from tobacco and gas as primary staples, R.H. Foster recognized it had to make changes in order to adapt. Thus, the company came up with a five-year plan to put foodservice in all of its c-stores.
“Our goal is to reinvent ourselves today for the customers of the future,” Gerow explained.
Many of R.H. Foster’s existing On the Move c-stores already offer foodservice, so the company wasn’t looking to completely reinvent the wheel. Instead, it identified foodservice as an area of opportunity to put fresh and healthy at the helm of customers’ want states.
“We recognize the customer today is different than the customer from yesterday,” said Gerow. “Innovation is part of bringing new customers to the store.”
At 4,179 square feet, the new store is a dramatic turnaround from the previous 954-square-foot store that was torn down on the same site earlier in 2016. Deviating from customary c-store fare, Freshies’ customers can craft their own healthy smoothies with kale, goji berries and flax seeds, and customize gourmet, made-to-order pizzas like fig and prosciutto, or brie and spinach. Those crunched for time can choose from Freshies’ selection of fresh grab-and-go sandwiches and salads, or they can go the more traditional route and pick up a breakfast sandwich or a whoopie pie.
Playing homage to R.H. Foster’s home state of Maine, Freshies also features a selection of local jams, jellies, honey, maple syrup and wines — a one-of-a-kind offering in its area.
The Ellsworth store will serve as the model for future store replacements and store renovations. A second Freshies store is expected to open this fall at the corner of State Street and Broadway in Bangor, Maine. All future new stores will be branded as Freshies.
Although not part of R.H. Foster’s five-year plan, the company additionally is looking to add a Freshies location near a university. It will be the first to offer seating, Gerow shared.
“[We’re] just trying to listen to what customers are telling us and be innovative,” she said. “We’re a best-kept secret. We’re a great company with great people, and are working toward the best c-stores to offer experiences customers won’t get anywhere else.”
Look in the March issue of Convenience Store News for more on Freshies.