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NATIONAL REPORT — Pizza has gained a solid foothold in convenience stores, and continues to rise. The segment has matured in the convenience channel from 10 years ago when fully topped pizza was the only option. Now that customer expectations for quality have risen, so too has the quality of the convenience store pizza.
So, what are the best practices for a successful c-store pizza program?
1. Investigate Food Traffic Wisely and Periodically
Analyze traffic to determine the best type of product and equipment to suit your needs, advises James Viti, vice president of sales and marketing for Delorio Foods Inc., a pizza supplier to the convenience store industry, as well as other channels. “Consult with your customers, your distributor, and equipment or product manufacturers for their input. There is no need for a large investment when you’re starting out, unless you are confident the food traffic and impulse sales dictate otherwise.”
2. Look Outward to the Horizon
Determining where a c-store sees itself in three to five years with pizza is also an important step to take right from the start, according to Cheri Marchionda, director of sales, convenience, for Buffalo, N.Y.-based Rich Products Corp. Building a quality pizza brand and program is a continual work in progress.
3. Be Nimble, Be Quick
In these days of advanced internet and app technology, trends can catch fire quicker than they have at any time in history, and trends can move out just as quickly.
“The trick is to be nimble,” said Viti. “Have an eye on all the pizza offerings and articles and blogs and briefs. Be ready to bring in that special new sauce to top your pizza.” He also recommends taking advantage of all three components that constitute pizza: the dough, sauce and toppings. “They allow for immense versatility, as you can change out or mix-and-match to be on top of the trends. Today’s consumer expects customization. A good pizza program should allow for that.”
4. Consider the Labor Pains
If a store is going to do a fresh vs. frozen pizza program, it must have dedicated labor — at least one person, according to Dana Evaro, vice president of marketing for Landmark Products Inc., based in Milford, Iowa.
Otherwise, stores should look for programs that reduce human involvement, agreed Dee Cleveland, brand management and marketing executive for Hunt Brothers Pizza. “We have incorporated a conveyor oven so the employee can put the prepared pizza in the oven, let it run through on the conveyor belt, and know that they don’t have to sit around watching the pizza bake or waiting for a timer to sound,” she said. “A pizza program should easily fit into your employees’ routines and responsibilities, not create roadblocks to their success.”
5. Don’t Think You Have to Recreate the Pizza Wheel
“People love pizza and they love what they are used to — the classics,” said Cleveland. Hunt Brothers mixes in limited-time offers to reengage current customers and excite new fans, “but the classics are what really drive the biggest dollars for our retail partners,” Cleveland told Convenience Store News. “Consumers want to try new flavors, but they always come back again and again to what they know they like. Familiar flavors, like pepperoni pizza.”
6. Don’t Invest in a Made-From-Scratch Program Without Thinking It Through
The biggest challenge with a made-from-scratch program is staffing, according to Cleveland. If a convenience store retailer cannot afford to increase its staff to execute a made-from-scratch program, the better bet is to look for programs that make it easier for existing staff to get the pizza from the prep table to the oven to the consumer, she stated.
7. Don’t Attempt to Sell Slices Left Long in a Warmer
Freshness and consistency in pizza programs across multiple locations is key, said Viti. “You have continual first-time customers. Giving them a slice of pizza that has been in the warmer three-plus hours will not entice them back,” he cautioned.
This is a big challenge for many c-stores that are in the habit of keeping pizza on display until it sells, agreed Evaro, who believes in never holding pizza in a warmer for more than 45 minutes to an hour. “Often, [retailer] customers are looking at [holding] pizza for three-plus hours and that’s a big no-no,” he said. “Pizza is dough and dough dries out fast.”
8. Don’t Let an Empty Warmer Sit Idle
While old pizza is not attractive to hungry customers, neither is no pizza. “If every day you put 16 slices in the warmer and they sell out, then maybe if you put 30, you’ll sell more,” advised Evaro. “The biggest oversight we see is stores missing out on opportunity. Pizza takes commitment and direction from the top down. This has to be watched.”
Look in the June issue of Convenience Store News for more pizza insights and tips.