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    In-Store Merchandising That Screams Foodservice

    By Maureen Azzato

    It’s not uncommon for convenience store operators new to foodservice to expect that if they build the program, customers will come. All too often, however, even some intermediate and advanced foodservice operators are guilty of hiding their foodservice offering under a bushel.

    In an industry oriented primarily toward merchandise and gasoline sales, foodservice marketing and merchandising does not come as naturally. All too often, customers stop for gas and don’t go inside the store to buy anything, and the reason is that few operators properly utilize their outdoor space for advertising and promotions. For that reason, the Convenience Store News How To Crew experts are unanimous in their recommendations to leverage all available outdoor advertising and promotion locations to build in-store merchandise sales and “scream” that quality foodservice is available in the store. Use everything from pumptoppers, wind talkers, hose hangers and bollard covers to A-frames/interrupters and, of course, window signs.

    When it comes to food, be sure to use high-quality photography to make the menu offerings as appealing as possible. Take a page from quick-service restaurants and note how few words they use in their promotions and advertising, letting the mouth-watering photographs nearly say it all.

    C-store operators tend to do a better job of promoting their foodservice programs inside the store, but still many relegate their promotions and signage only in and around the foodservice area. While this is a great location, it shouldn’t be the only place since the shoppers to whom you are promoting are likely already fans of your food. In order to cast a wider net and attract light users and/or non-users to your foodservice program, you have to shout it out. Cross-promote near the fountain and hot beverage areas, as well as the snack and candy aisles since those items are often purchased with food, and use cooler-door clings.

    Numerous shopper marketing studies over the years have shown that most c-store customers shop with blinders on — in other words, they come in for their destination item, pay and leave. This means they are difficult to interrupt, but difficult does not mean impossible. It just means operators need to be aggressive in their in-store foodservice communications.

    “Once in the store, use as many touchpoints as possible with the major promotion to help drive the message,” one How To Crew member said. “Use signage at the order point, regular or digital menu panels, and/or on the touchscreen if that’s an option. Signage at the register…and standing floor signs to interrupt the customer’s path can also be effective, as long as they are not too annoying.”

    Upselling & Sampling

    Some retailers also use employee buttons that promote foodservice specials, which is a great way to encourage employees to engage with customers and possibly upsell them or make them aware of new menu items. And never underestimate the value of attentive and friendly service.

    “A great way to promote items in stores is using the staff to help build excitement,” said Tim Powell, a former Technomic Inc. executive who is now with Think, a research and consulting service. “Take a cue from traditional foodservice, where bartenders and staff help upsell drinks, desserts or entrées. The power of suggestion can be very strong.”

    Sampling is another effective tool, but few c-stores do it because it requires some staffing to execute effectively.

    Several retail experts have great success with sampling and offered these pointers:

    • Hot items don’t stay hot long, so make small batches or have a table and equipment that keeps the food quality high and at optimal temperature.

    • Have the right person with the right personality conduct sampling. They should have a sales personality — warm, friendly, clean, presentable and knowledgeable about the food being sampled and the entire foodservice program.
    • Make sure the item you are sampling is in stock and available for immediate purchase.
    • While vendors and brokers might offer sampling programs, some retailers said they prefer to use store staff that are more familiar with store operations.
    • New items often come with free cases from vendors that can be utilized, reducing the sampling program cost to mostly labor.
    • Structure sampling around busy day times and sample new items that customers would not normally expect to be in your store.
    • • The food you sample should be the best quality; it is not a means to reduce spoilage.

    “It is impossible to over-sample. You just can’t do this enough,” one How To Crew expert said. “You will find manufacturers very receptive to assist with the cost of an effective sampling program as long as they believe you are serious about it, because they realize the positive effect a good sampling program can have on sales.”

    Foodservice packaging is another very important marketing and merchandising tool, so operators should spend considerable time planning their branding from A to Z. Branding should be carried through to every aspect of the program, including hot and cold cups, coffee sleeves, napkins and napkin holders, food containers, food paper and foil wraps, etc. “You need to show off the food if it is grab and go, and use professional packaging and labels to communicate quality,” another expert said. “It shouldn’t look premade if it isn’t.” Food should also be “arranged with a culinary flare. Wraps, for example, should be cut on a bias to showcase the ingredients.”

    The foodservice branding should also be consistently rolled out in all media communications in the store, outside the store, in all advertising, on the company website and in all social media communications. Several retail experts said they are beginning to experience success using the Internet and social media to communicate with customers and promote their foodservice specials.

     

    Merchandising Equipment

    Foodservice equipment must, of course, be functional and perform, but operators often overlook merchandising properties. Hot holding cases should help display food in the most appealing way possible with maximum food visibility, while keeping food at proper and safe temperatures.

    “Look for merchandisers, both hot or cold, to be open air with no doors. This invites the customers to look and shop,” one retailer said. “Doors are like walls.” When hot food requires proper humidity controls, however, closed cases become necessary, another expert was quick to point out.

    Merchandisers that are amply stocked with fresh food are also infinitely more appealing than sparsely merchandised cases. “From a foodservice perspective, showing a center-aisle case that is full of fresh-cut fruits, a choice of bottled/canned beverages, fresh sandwiches that are in clear packaging that prominently display expiration or ‘made on’ dates are all positive cues,” Think’s Powell said. “A half-empty food case looks like the food has been there a while, and consumers become suspicious they are getting the last one.”

    One How To Crew expert simply put it like this: “Fresh-in-your-face is what sells food. The best merchants have fresh food displayed in abundance. It is packaged or displayed so that the quality features of the product are visible. If product is displayed for self-service, the packaging must protect the integrity of the product and show it off.”

    Some retailers are also fans of open prep areas so customers can see their food being made, which drives home that fresh-made message. But this should be reserved for advanced operators who execute flawlessly. Customers can be just as quickly turned off if they see an employee do something unappealing or unsafe.

    Self-serve equipment, such as specialty coffee machines, for example, should also be easy to use and require no more than two to three steps to make a beverage, Powell noted. “If a display is colorful and shows that the beverage is enticing, but consumers are at a loss as to how to use it, then a sale is lost,” he said. “C-store consumers want in and out quickly, so if something is merchandised as ‘eye candy’ but it’s difficult to use or looks difficult, it can be a hindrance.”

    And don’t underestimate the value of a good deal or bundled program. Again, if you want customers to know about them, make sure you “scream” that foodservice is sold in your stores with consistent marketing, promotions and merchandising, using all the tools and tricks of the restaurant and retail trade at your disposal.

    By Maureen Azzato
    • About Maureen Azzato Maureen Azzato is a freelance content developer and editor with more than 20 years of business publishing experience, with a primary focus on foodservice and retailing. Most recently, she was the founding publisher and editorial director of On-the-Go Foodservice, a publication for cross-channel retail foodservice executives. Azzato was also previously publisher and editorial director of Convenience Store News, where she worked for 17 years.

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