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WAWA, Pa. — Wawa Inc. is one of the top convenience store chains when it comes to the sandwiches category — both fresh, made-to-order and premade varieties. One thing that sets Wawa apart from many other c-stores is that the retailer, headquartered in the greater Philadelphia area, does not offer sandwiches made by any third-party vendors in its 700-plus stores.
“It’s all Wawa-branded sandwiches,” said Director of Product Development Lynn Hochberg.
While Wawa has a significant number of stores under its banner, the chain manages to always stay fast afoot when adapting to the constantly changing c-store environment. “We’ve added a few sauces, and a few weeks ago, we launched a burrito program. We think that is a type of sandwich,” she noted.
Also in the sandwich department, Wawa recently introduced a panini program, which Hochberg told Convenience Store News has been “super successful.” This followed last year’s introduction of a line of club sandwiches. However, the crown jewel of Wawa’s sandwich operation continues to be the hoagie (referred to as a sub or grinder in other parts of the country).
“The hoagie continues to be very important for us, and we celebrate our hoagies with our Hoagiefest each summer,” Hochberg explained. Hoagiefest is an annual promotion that features $4.99 hoagies at all participating Wawa locations.
How popular is Hoagiefest? Well, it has its own Twitter hashtag (#HoagieFest).
“We get all kinds of positive response on social media,” the head of product development said.
Even for a chain as established as Wawa, Hochberg readily acknowledges there are many challenges facing retailers who seek to grow their sandwich programs.
“There’s a lot of competition for sandwiches. C-stores have to ask themselves: What’s the compelling reason for a customer to choose you?” she advised. “Everything has gotten more convenient, more fresh [and] more value. Everything keeps ratcheting into the convenient space — it’s no longer good enough to just say that you’re ‘convenient.’”
Also among the challenges is the space needed to operate a profitable sandwich program, be it premade, made-to-order or third-party supplied.
“You definitely need space, and it all depends on what your focus is,” said Hochberg. “Do want a few varieties like the Chipotle model? Or do you want to be super broad? Variety, speed and volume dictates your space. Bigger is not always better; efficient use of space is a key to profitability. It has to be easy for your associates to prepare the food properly.”
While fresh, customized sandwiches may be Wawa’s calling card, many customers are on a tight schedule and simply don’t have the time to wait to have a sandwich made. Wawa has employed kiosks for the past 15 years. “There are definitely other things you can get done while you are having your sandwich made,” said Hochberg. But for those customers requiring an in-and-out shopping experience, Wawa offers a full line of branded premade sandwiches the retailer is quite proud of.
“Anything you offer grab-and-go has to be, first and foremost, fresh,” she said. “And it’s just got to taste good. If you’ve got something that’s grab-and-go, you’re buying it based on what you see. So that’s why it’s got to look appealing; look fresh. It’s basic. It’s how we all buy things.”
For Wawa to put its name on something, Hochberg said the company has to believe in the product and its quality. This pride extends to the packaging, the product, and even the label design.
“We’re not hiding anything. Our premade sandwiches are all fresh and made with quality ingredients. And everything we do has been sensory-validated through the shelf life,” she explained.
Meanwhile, Wawa’s customized sandwiches run the gamut depending on what the customer can dream up. “While we have some suggestions, and we have an under-500-calorie hoagie menu, in the end people really do want what they want, when they want it. So customization is very important.”
As far as promoting its sandwich program, Wawa regularly advertises on radio and television. Hochberg acknowledges “there are new-fangled ways to advertise,” but she said word-of-mouth remains the most effective method of spreading the message.
“We definitely have a loyal customer base,” she said.
Editor’s note: Check out the April issue of Convenience Store News for our full report on the transformation of sandwiches in the c-store industry.