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    Optimization Is On the Menu

    Adding the right new foodservice item can serve up success.

    By Melissa Kress, Convenience Store News

    LAS VEGAS -– Evolution is the key to finding success with a foodservice program and whether it is adding a new turkey sandwich or a hot dog to the menu, the steps are the same.

    Two retailers who know something about foodservice -– and success –- are Jerry Weiner, vice president of foodservice at Rutter's Farm Stores, and Keith Boston, director of prepared foods at The Cumberland Gulf Group of Cos. They took the stage at the 2014 NACS Show to share their insights.

    According to Weiner, it is not enough just to implement a foodservice program; you must also optimize and evolve it. "You have to keep evolving year to year based on consumer demands, needs and wants," he said. "Never be satisfied [with] where you are because you are never where you could be."

    A retailer's first step should be to look at the size of its current menu. "Bigger is not always better," Weiner said. "But a one-horse pony is not going to get you to the finish line either." A retailer must know the menu and identify the "heroes" and "villains," he advised.

    A good way to do this is to analyze the whole menu and rank items from top to bottom, Boston explained. Starting at the top and working down, a retailer should be aware of the menu "stars, plow horses and dogs," the Cumberland Gulf executive stated.

    Adding a new item to an already full and established foodservice program takes some skills. As Boston said, it is just as important to know what to remove as it is to know what to add. Making that call depends on the retailer's targeted unit sales goal and weakest items.

    But be forewarned: some customers are going to be upset. "Everybody has favorites, but at the end of the day you are in the business to make money," he said.

    Speaking of dollars and cents, looking at cost doesn't always make sense. According to Boston, retailers should consider that they might have to spend more money on one item such as a burger, but save on others like the bun, toppings and condiments. It's not always about cost per pound or case, he cited.

    In addition, sometimes the seemingly least expensive item or ingredient is not much cheaper than one of higher quality. For example, higher-quality items may yield more portions, have a longer shelf life and offer the best value for the customer, said Boston.

    So when it comes to menu planning, there are some key factors to keep in mind, the presenters agreed. They are: 

    • Keep an eye on trends (what's hot now and what will be hot six months from now).
    • Look at what competitors are doing.
    • Identify your target customer –- and be realistic.
    • Define the process; for example, will it be baked on premises?
    • Take note of operational efficiencies.
    • Think new technology.

    "A good rule of thumb is common sense," Boston concluded. "It's not brain surgery."

    While it is important for retailers to offer staple items to compete with nearby c-stores, they also need to look for menu items that are not common. This turns the location from a convenience store to a destination spot, according to Weiner. Rutter's offers cannolis, hot pastrami reuben sandwiches, short ribs and the "Walking Dorito Taco."

    "Complacency is the enemy. Stay on top of consumer trends. Don't neglect keeping your current offer optimized. Don't be afraid to investigate and test," Weiner urged. "You only have to be right 51 percent of the time to be better than you were."

    By Melissa Kress, Convenience Store News
    • About Melissa Kress Melissa Kress joined EnsembleIQ's Convenience Store News and Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner in November 2010. Her primary beats include alcoholic beverages and tobacco. Kress has been a professional journalist since 1995. A graduate of West Virginia University, she began her career in community journalism before moving to business-to-business publishing in 2000, covering commercial real estate.

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