"We can manage the stock for the retailer," explains the company's head of brand marketing, Andy Valentine. "Our staff use electronic hand-held equipment that allows them to see what's been sold over the previous two weeks. They can then use this information to judge what's needed in the store."
Best sellers are obviously the key and Valentine says there is a top 10 that it likes every site to stock (see box right).
"The best sellers don't change that much, to be honest. Everyone has their favourites and they tend to stick with them," he explains.
That's not to say though that Ginsters doesn't offer new lines, such as special-edition sandwiches, for the more adventurous consumer.
With carriers the bread that carries the sandwich filling Valentine says they have experimented with subs, wraps and ciabatta but up to 85% of volume is still in standard sandwiches. And, perhaps surprisingly, brown malted bread is more popular than white because of its flavour and texture.
Prices range from £1.99 to £3.49 with margins of 36%. The £1.99 lines are even available price-marked for retailers with particularly value-conscious customers.
"This price-marking drives the value perception and builds consumer trust," says Valentine.
As for the question of whether people choose a Ginsters' pasty or a Ginsters' sandwich, he says some definitely go for both. "White van man will stock up in the morning for the day buying items for breakfast, mid-morning snack and lunch all at the same time."
Valentine is keen on meal deals and 'go large' style offers to encourage customers to trade up.
"We are currently trialling 'Go large' and it's going very well," he says.
Bought-in sandwiches are not the only option for forecourt retailers, baguettes that are filled on site are popular too.
Stephen Clifford, marketing controller at Bake & Bite, says filled baguettes are popular because they are freshly made and more substantial than a sandwich.
Obviously baking and filling baguettes yourself means investing in equipment and staff, but Clifford says the margins make it worthwhile.
"You can charge £2.29 to £2.99 for a filled baguette and make between £1.20 and £1.30 on it," he says.
The baguettes are freshly baked on the premises and then filled in a prep area. Clifford says this means a filled baguette is the closest customers will get to a home-made sandwich.
He adds that most forecourts sell ready-filled baguettes but some are filling them to order. "There is a growing trend towards making them to order. This attracts more female customers as they can see exactly what is going into their baguette, plus it gives retailers the opportunity to interact with their customers. And, it doesn't take as long as you might think."
Seventy different fillings are available from Bake & Bite but the best sellers are chicken mayo in a white baguette; ham salad in white; tuna mayo in white; cheese & pickle in white; coronation chicken in a harvester baguette; free range egg mayo in a harvester; double cheese & onion in a harvester; and prawn mayo in a harvester.
Fillings come chilled and are delivered with a five-day shelf life. Operators then garnish the baguette with lettuce, cucumber or tomato.
Wraps are also available for retailers to fill and Clifford says they are a "small but growing" part of the business.
"We also offer retailers bagels, crusty rolls and thick-cut bread for them to make their own sandwiches."
Wastage is one of the worries for retailers Clifford reckons they should budget 7% waste with a filled baguette offer. "That's about normal and retailers need to build this into their economics as you have to keep the fixture reasonably full."
Another option for forecourts is to go the whole hog and put in a Subway franchise. Trevor Haynes, area development manager for Subway in the UK and Ireland, says partnering with Subway provides "excellent dual branding opportunities, high rental returns and increased customer market share".
"A Subway is a good option for a convenience store as it provides customers with a recognised brand which has gained the trust and support of customers worldwide," he explains. "It's this support and desire for Subway subs that has continued to drive the growth of the brand and, in turn, attract new customers and new franchisees.
"Our customers keep coming back because they recognise, trust and value the brand, and know that it offers a wide range of great-value subs and salads, including a low-fat range, that can be customised to their own requirements."
He says there are currently many opportunities available for forecourt operators to partner with the Subway franchise and open an outlet within an existing store.
What's new in snacking?
l United Biscuits (UB) has relaunched Wheat Crunchies. The size of each individual snack is bigger and there is a new Cheddar & onion variant. There is also a new logo and pack redesign. Handypacks have 25% extra inside, with a rrp of 49p. In a separate move, UB has launched McVitie's Cheddars crispy bacon flavour. The 150g roll wrap format has a rrp of £1.41.
l Ginsters' pasties currently give consumers the chance to "Have me hot' on 150 sites across the UK. Customers pick up a pasty from the display, hand it over to the operator who then places it in an accelerator oven for just 90 seconds. This delivers a hot and crispy pasty. "We offer 'Have me hot' at forecourts, motorway services, universities and hospitals. It's expanding rapidly and we hope to have 50 more sites in the next 12 months," says Andy Valentine, head of brand marketing for Ginsters.
l Premier Foods has launched a new pot snacks range for women. Batchelors Deli Box noodles and pasta range is available in six varieties: chicken, cheese & broccoli; mild curry; chicken & mushroom; BBQ beef; and chow mein. The 75g portions, which contain just 2% fat, come in a New York-style cardboard takeaway noodle box. Rrp is £1.19.
l New Pork Farms' Toastables are savoury, filled pastry snacks which slot into a toaster. They are made with special pastry that will not crumble or flake so they can be hand-held and are therefore easy for consumers to eat. There are three varieties: spicy pork, cheese & ham and bacon & brown sauce. Rrp is £1.49.
l Mixed cases of Kettle Chips 40g bags are currently available (six each of sweet chilli, lightly salted and sea salt & balsamic vinegar), which are ideal for forecourt retailers who want to try the single-serve range. Kettle Foods has launched a new range of smaller price-marked sharing bags specifically for independents. The 100g 'Little big bags' are price-marked at £1.29. There are also new price-marked Kettle Ridge Crisps 85g bags at 99p.
Ginsters' top 10
1Deep fill chicken & bacon
2Deep fill BLT
3Deep fill chicken salad
4Deef fill egg & bacon
5Deep fill ploughmans
6Deep fill all day breakfast
7Deep fill roast chicken & mayo
Hot dogs are selling like hot cakes at the MRH Jet site in Rugeley, Staffordshire. It had a Rollover hot dog offer put in at the end of May and site operator Rob Price says sales have exceeded all expectations. "We thought we'd sell 50 a week but we are selling 200-250," he says. Peak time for sales is midnight to 4am on a Friday and Saturday night, when he sells 80 or 90. "But we do sell them all week. Workmen buy them in the mornings, for example."
Rob says the hot dogs are easy to offer. "They are kept in a steamer so we have to empty the water once a day and clean it out. This takes about 40 minutes, so hot dogs are available around the clock except for during this short cleaning time."
Rob is selling them at £1.79 each and returning a margin of 40%.
The equipment is provided free on loan from Rollover and Rob says the company has really helped with things like point of sale.
Tony Owen, sales and marketing director at Rollover, says the MRH site "reflects the demand and opportunity for late night food if you can provide the right offer".
"Bake-off is often turned off mid-afternoon and then that's it in many places if you want hot food. The hot dog steamer is a great opportunity to extend hot food serving hours.
"We think one of the key factors to ensuring success is getting the attention of the drivers on the way into the forecourt store and as such we have are developing a raft of forecourt-specific point of sale. This includes petrol pump wobblers and we are trialling totem poles in certain sites to both build the brand and drive sales."
The smell of sales success
Forecourt retailers should capitalise on the power of freshly baked bread to tempt consumers into making a purchase.
So says Rachel Shoosmith, marketing executive at Lantmännen Unibake UK. "The aroma of freshly baked bread really entices consumers and reinforces the fresh baking element and 'best quality' factor, which consumers are prepared to pay more for."
Shoosmith points to a recent Lantmännen Unibake survey where 67% of respondents said it was important to them that the bread they bought was freshly baked. "Moreover, the smell of freshly baked bread in-store is a significant driver of impulse sales with 79% of respondents agreeing that this tempts them to buy. Using signage in-store to communicate that products are freshly baked is also motivating to consumers and helps support product quality claims."
Shoosmith reckons forecourt retailers can also maximise sales by utilising high-quality, authentic breads for sandwiches. The company is seeing particular success with sales of in-store baked ciabatta rolls, so much so that it has built a new line for them at its bakery in Milton Keynes.
Twenty three per cent of all forecourt shoppers are on a food-to-go mission with a further 20% looking for a treat (Him CTP 2012). Cuisine de France (CdF) offers sausage rolls, bacon & cheese turnovers, pies and pastries for those looking for food-to-go while for treats it has muffins and Danish pastries.
CdF's insights and performance manager, Mariam Thomas, says forecourt retailers need to focus on 'mission management' when it comes to food to go. "You need to ask 'why is the shopper in your store?' Is it for a lunch mission or a breakfast mission?" The answers will then help retailers with their day-part planning so they have the right products available at the right time of day. This might sound like a logistical nightmare but CdF advocates baking little and often to ensure availability of products throughout the day. This approach also helps keep wastage to a minimum.
CdF research has found that 58% of shoppers said they would like to see more food-to-go items available in their local convenience store and the company caters for this through new launches. In June it unveiled loads of new lines including a smoky bacon sausage roll, corned beef slice and hot dog baguette. Also available are new Levi Roots pasties in chicken and beef flavours.
Rustling up trade
Microwaveable snacks have often come in for stick about their quality however Kepak has met the criticism head-on for its Rustlers brand with an irreverent marketing campaign. Angela Daulby, channel director at Rustlers' brand owner Kepak, explains: "Consumers love the taste of Rustlers, but there have always been some myths about the quality of the product that we wanted to address in a typically Rustlers way. Our 'Fit As A Butcher's Daughter' campaign centres on a Rustlers microsite. It features an interactive butcher's shop fronted by the scantily clad butcher's daughter, with a self-edit video facility."
Daulby says Rustlers is the UK's best-selling hot snacking brand (Nielsen data) with a primary target market of 16 to 25-year-old males.
The three top-selling lines are the quarter pounder, BBQ rib and chicken sandwich.
Also available from Kepak is the Zugo's Deli Café range of paninis as well as the recently launched pasta pots for the lunchtime eating occasion. The best sellers here are the two panini products chicken, mozzarella & pesto along with bacon, cheese & mustard mayo and the pasta carbonara pot.
Daulby says the brands are doing well in the forecourt channel for several reasons. "Our products lend themselves to eating on the go and have a longer shelf life than pies and sandwiches, which reduces the likelihood of wastage."
She reckons that to make the most of the huge hot snacking opportunity, forecourts should install a microwave. "In trials, they have boosted sales by as much as 200% and they drive sales all day long. They also reduce the labour costs associated with serve-over units."
A Kepak-branded microwave usually costs £240 plus VAT, but at present it's just £140 plus VAT.
Pots of profits
Unilever's Pot Noodle is the number one player in the £178m instant hot snacks market, worth more than £92m and growing by 11% in the past year (IRI data). The brand was boosted earlier in the year by the launch of a chilli beef flavour, plus it is backed by a £4m marketing campaign during 2012.
According to Unilever's Partners for Growth merchandising advice, visibility is key in pot snacks sales as 82% are bought on impulse.
"Impulse sales are high because pot snacks are a quick and convenient hot snack option, that requires no pre-planning, preparation or chilling," explains Tom Hazelden, Partners for Growth controller at Unilever UK. "With the typical customer pushed for time and not wanting to spend ages looking for what they want, retailers can capitalise on impulse purchases by making sure pot snacks are highly visible."
In addition, 70% of shoppers buy pot snacks with crisps or soft drinks so retailers are advised to put them together in store, or put up point-of-sale posters to encourage purchases. According to Him research, stocking pot snacks alongside other impulse snacks can increase sales by 36%.