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"I have seen so many changes and now, we are seeing a rebirth," said Larry Miller, president of Miller Management and Consulting Services LLC. "People are taking [foodservice] seriously."
Miller's insights came as he led a panel discussion entitled, "Developing Successful Foodservice Partnerships," at the American Wholesale Marketers Association’s (AWMA) annual conference and expo in Orlando this morning.
Foodservice has moved up the category ladder in c-stores to sit firmly at No. 2 behind cigarettes. What seems to be taking hold are the food items that are quickest to execute, Miller observed, with sandwiches, hot dogs, pizza and chicken claiming the top four spots. However, if every retailer is offering the same programs, they run the risk of oversaturating the market, he noted.
Foodservice is not only a win for retailers. "As a wholesaler, if you are not really thinking about food, then you have a serious issue," Miller explained. "It is one thing retailers can get into that is getting easier to execute at the store level."
While it is getting easier to execute, the relationship formed between the retailer, distributor and manufacturer is key.
"Never do foodservice halfway," advised James Venable, vice president of operations for Chester's International LLC, provider of a branded quick-service chicken concept that’s found in c-stores nationwide. "If you are going to get into foodservice, then go full blown because customers can tell the difference."
Part of going “all in” is choosing a nationally recognized, front-of-the-house brand or manufacturer, he advised. "You want to choose a national brand that will pull a traveler off an interstate into a convenience store," Venable said.
Consistency is also important to the customer, he added, citing consistency of service and food quality in particular.
The evolution of foodservice has not only taken place at the store level. As Sharon Kuncl, vice president of merchandising for foodservice and beverage at convenience distributor Eby-Brown Co. noted, the distribution company began life as a traditional candy and tobacco distributor and as foodservice has grown, it’s transformed into a foodservice distributor.
In fact, Eby-Brown even introduced a proprietary line of offerings called Wakefield Sandwiches. The wholesaler owns and operates its own commissary, which produces 5 million sandwiches a year.
Another major element to a booming foodservice program is remembering that retailers, distributors and manufacturers need to work together. As a distributor, Eby-Brown keeps several considerations in mind when working with retailers and manufacturers, according to Kuncl.
For example, when it comes to the distributor-retailer relationship, key considerations include item selection, timing and supply. When it comes to the distributor-manufacturer relationship, key considerations include case packs, shelf life, order requirements and support at retail.
"It is about us communicating our needs," Kuncl explained.
But when it comes right down to it, a successful foodservice program is about finding the right partner, said Steve Walters, national sales manager for frozen drink company Caribbean Crème. "If you don't find the right vendor partner who works with the retailer and the distributor, the program will fall to pieces," he concluded.