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NEW YORK -- There are few items in foodservice that have received more scrutiny than the roller grill in c-stores. In studies Technomic has performed over the years, we've learned only foods from vending machines seem to have less appeal than items from a roller grill in a c-store.
But times have changed. Just as c-store foodservice evolved to meet the needs of fresh, fast and friendly service, so have the items that "star" on the roller grill today. Gone are the days of the shriveled hot dog, whose origins and expiration date are unknown. Today, we see c-stores with 100-percent beef hot dogs, Johnsonville bratwursts and Ruiz Foods Tornados, among other branded, premium-positioned roller grill items.
It's no surprise then that roller grills will continue to be a permanent fixture in any successful c-store foodservice program. Some of the facts to consider: More than 60 percent of c-store foodservice operators have roller grills -- second only to microwaves and coffee makers in foodservice equipment. Roller grills also outnumber heated holding cabinets and heat lamps -- two critical components of aspiring c-store foodservice programs. And finally, roller grill items account for approximately 15 percent to 20 percent of the $10 billion c-store foodservice market, and its annual growth of 5 percent continues to outshine overall growth for the entire segment.
But perhaps the most exciting and promising part of the roller grill's position in the c-store is found in the consumers who purchase these items. The typical roller grill consumer in a c-store spends more than average, rates c-stores more highly, visits more often and is, in fact, more concerned about the quality, visual appeal and temperature of the food than the average c-store foodservice consumer. Moreover, roller grill consumers are more inclined to purchase items as part of a combo meal and also are more likely to want to substitute or alternate items in a combo meal. From a brand perspective, however, roller grill consumers show little difference in preference between national or private label brands compared with the average c-store foodservice consumer.
Along with these findings come a number of implications for suppliers to consider. Among those:
-- Continue to develop items with an eye toward the roller grill. It is and will continue to be a critical component in c-store foodservice success. Consider expanding breakfast lines, sandwiches and other handhelds that will fit well with this equipment.
-- Show c-store operators the importance of the c-store roller grill consumer to their business. These consumers spend more, visit more, rate c-stores higher and are more loyal than average.
-- Brands have little influence on this group. Visual appeal and product claims such as "all beef" or "authentic Mexican" will take a front seat to brand claims.
-- Because roller grill consumers are more easily influenced at the time of purchase, this group is a prime target for bundled items, or promotions such as "two for one" specials. This will help your operator's customers increase check averages and generate regular traffic.
Consumer perceptions about items on the roller grill have come a long way, and that's good news for us all. However, there is still plenty of room to grow the business and operators and suppliers should carefully evaluate their roller grill offerings to maximize sales from this large and expanding category.
Other columns by Tim Powell:
Trends in Convenience Store Foodservice
Tim Powell is C-store Foodservice Program director for Technomic, a fact-based research and consulting firm that helps restaurants and food suppliers grow profitably with business-building guidance. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.