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DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. -- Convenience, value and flavor are three trends in the convenience store channel with real staying power, according to Catherine Porter, senior customer marketing manager for c-stores at Sara Lee Foodservice.
"The value proposition convenience stores offer is a rapidly growing trend," Porter told CSNews Online in a recent interview. "Consumers want quality food at a convenient price. The increase of bundled promotions and deals has been a big success, and has driven traffic to c-stores over the last 12 months -- more so than other channels."
Despite the challenging economic times, the c-store channel continues to grow and see success, but it is not unaffected. One of the interesting trends Porter said she and her team recently noticed is the change in daypart traffic growth at convenience stores.
"The morning meal has been heavily impacted by job losses, seen in the decrease of commuters stopping for coffee and breakfast at their local convenience store," she noted. "That said, we have seen traffic increases during lunch, the afternoon commute and on the weekends -- very non-traditional foodservice times for convenience stores."
Knowing this, Sara Lee is recommending its c-store clients adapt to consumers' changing needs by reevaluating planogram strategies for the different dayparts and week parts.
Convenience retailers "need to maximize the opportunities when the consumers are in their stores," Porter explained. "If a store takes down its roller grills and warmers at 2 p.m., they've eliminated the opportunity to sell hot dogs and corn dogs as late-afternoon snacks. The hungry consumer on [his or her] way home is one who may have previously visited a QSR (quick-service restaurant) or coffee shop, but is now seeking out the value convenience stores offer. Stores need to make sure they take advantage of this shift in consumer behavior and expectations."
The one concern Porter hears most often from new and current customers is that they don't know whether the products they're offering are the right ones for their customers, merchandised in the right way with the right value proposition. To address this concern, Sara Lee Foodservice recently introduced new tools and programs especially for c-stores.
STIR, short for Strategic Tactical Insights Reinvention, is a new consumer-insights-based approach to beverages aimed at helping c-store retailers identify consumer beverage needs, and drive strategic and tactical solutions for improved category performance.
The company also re-launched its Sara Lee Individually Wrapped Bakery portfolio, consisting of new packaging, products and merchandising solutions for c-stores. Sara Lee asked consumers what they wanted in regards to grab-and-go products, and packaging images and features, and developed a new lineup based on the insights gained.
Also, as part of the re-launch, Sara Lee developed a category management tool called the Individually Wrapped Bakery Consumer Choice Simulator that recreates an in-store offering. By selecting different brands, products, sizes, features and price points, the user can understand how a consumer's share of preference would be allocated among the various offerings, and recognize which products and brands will drive sales in their stores.
Lastly, the foodservice supplier introduced a turnkey marketing and merchandising program designed for those with 50 stores or less. The Counter$mart program includes roller grill, handheld sandwiches, corn dogs and bakery items. It is tailored to the needs of small operators, so they can offer a competitive value proposition, expert-branded merchandising, and overall program credibility to effectively compete in the marketplace, said Porter.
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