Offering hot food-to-go in your forecourt store might sound like too much hassle, but it seems it’s a big turn-on for customers.
According to Him’s recent food-to-go study, forecourt customers see hot food as more important than chilled or ambient, plus they are more likely to buy hot food on impulse.
Eleven per cent of those people surveyed for the study said they wanted to see more hot food in forecourt stores.
Serving up hot food in your store does not have to be especially complicated. You could install a microwave and offer microwaveable burgers and snacks or you could go down the bake-off route and offer sausage rolls and bacon baps.
We spoke to four forecourt retailers who each offer hot food-to-go to find out just how easy it is.
Bake & Bite
Top 50 Indie George Hammond’s Queenborough Service Station on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, relaunched in May following a 16-week full redevelopment of the forecourt, valeting centre and convenience store.
George Hammond’s managing director, John Ryeland, takes up the story: "Although the store had the benefit of a bake-off section prior to closure, it has now more than quadrupled in size and incorporates a full convenience store shopping offer. Additionally, the offer is supported by a Subway franchise, off licence, in-house bakery, Costa Express and 37 metres of chilled goods.
"Bearing in mind that our customers can choose from either a traditional bake-off solution or Subway, the sales from Bake & Bite have been extremely encouraging. Queenborough has a strong market early in the morning, with workmen in particular taking advantage of linked deals and multi-pack purchases from the impulse section. We have unfortunately lost some HGV traffic because of the closure during the redevelopment, so we have lost a traditional customer base for these early morning goods. However, encouragingly our customer count is up 11% year-on-year and bake-off is running at approximately £2,000 per week.
"We are constantly looking at improvements we can make to the section and we’re keen to offer good deals so have many products price-marked at £1 which, on the face of it, appears to be helping drive sales throughout all categories.
"We operate a dedicated bake-off kitchen back-of-house starting with a first bake via the night staff and then through a dedicated (very dedicated!) member of staff from 8am through to 2pm.
"Bake-off goods are baked regularly through these hours to ensure freshness and thereafter the emphasis is switched to Subway for the remainder of the day."
As you walk through the door of Top 50 Indie MPK Garages’ Eastfield Service Station in Sutton in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, to the right hand side is a 2m chiller. One metre of that chiller is dedicated to food-to-go including Rustlers microwaveable snacks. And the good thing about this forecourt store is that it has a microwave on-site so consumers can heat up their food and go.
However, before they even set foot in the Londis-branded store, there are banners on the forecourts with the message ’Fill up inside’ and pump-top messaging encouraging them to ’Make it Quick, use the in-store microwave to heat up your Rustlers or Zugo’s Deli Café’.
Dave Beckett, trade channel manager at MPK Garages, says: "Kepak has provided us with excellent signage for outside and inside the store.
At the chiller, there are signs saying we have a microwave. The microwave itself is pre-set so customers just press the button for their particular product. It’s all been really good for business as we’ve seen a 50% increase in sales since we’ve had the signage and the microwave.
"Most of our Rustlers customers are ’white man men’ but we also get kids buying them in the evening.
"Products are supported with promotions such as ’2 for £3’ and you often get one person heating up both burgers one for him and one for his mate back in his van.
"There’s no mess as we have a bin next to the microwave and people keep the area clean. We put out serviettes and paper plates.
"The microwave is next to our Tchibo coffee machine. We want to encourage people to try the coffee so we are currently running an offer where customers get a free coffee with any Rustlers burger.
"We’re very pleased with how it is all going. It’s been a good starting point for hot food and we’ll definitely be looking to expand."
Ron Perry of Ron Perry and Son A19 Services North and South in Hartlepool (pictured below) could not be more complimentary about Rollover hot dogs. He describes them with phrases such as ’absolutely brilliant’ but before he agreed to have Rollover in his two sites, he admits to being very sceptical.
"I saw Rollover at a trade show I was interested but I was also a little apprehensive. I needn’t have been though as I am now selling 300 a week in our South site and 150 a week in the North site.
"Rollover hot dogs are an absolutely brilliant product and they’re easy to serve. Wagon drivers see and smell them and can’t resist them. They’re also very good value for money as they’re quite a big product and sell for just £1.89."
The small Rollover unit is on the counter next to the till making it great for encouraging impulse purchases and easy for staff to get to, to serve customers.
"You need a bit of freezer space to store the rolls but that’s about it," says Ron. "Rollover provides everything including the temperature probes and graphs so you can ensure you are selling the hot dogs at the right temperature.
Jay Gohil of Cosford Garage in Albrighton, Shropshire, added a Subway to his shop offer last year.
The store is in a good position next door to an RAF military base and just off a main commuter route.
Jay says: "In overall terms, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Before it had all been a bit hit and miss with hot food but now we have a strong branded offer. I’m a big fan because its introduction has not caused any aggravation. I hired an ex-Subway manager to help us at the beginning so that helped."
Jay says that even though the presence of the Subway has displaced some sales from the main shop, pound for pound he gets a higher gross profit from Subway items than from, say, ready meals.
Start-up costs were quite steep but Jay kept costs down by buying some second-hand equipment.
A percentage of his sales go to Subway and he also pays into a franchise advertising fund. But despite all that, Jay is still a big fan.
"A Subway is a good option on the forecourt as it provides customers with a recognised brand," he says.
"People know what to expect and know that they can trust the product, which is a real advantage. The Subway helps to drive customers into the petrol station and vice versa."
Hot food news
l Rollover has launched a new free app for iPhones and androids. It features the Hot Dog Face game where users snap a photo of friends or family eating a virtual hot dog and share it via Facebook, Twitter, MMS or email. The app also incorporates a ’your nearest’ function so consumers can find a Rollover hot dog wherever they are, using either postcode or GPS. In addition there is a review section, a hot dog facts section and links to Rollover competitions. Retailers are receiving special app point of sale and limited edition hot dog trays to promote downloads, complete with QR Codes.
l Lantmännen Unibake UK says Continental savoury products such as its Bakehouse-branded cheese twist, tomato & cheese swirly, spinach & ricotta plait and pretzels are in demand as a satisfying snack or lunchtime option. Its cheese twist remains the most popular savoury product in convenience retail, and savoury twist sales are currently growing at 3.4% year-on-year (Nielsen data).
l Cuisine de France recently launched more than 20 new products catering for all needs from breakfast to savoury snacks and indulgent sweet treats, all inspired by leading consumer trends. For example, it is tapping into the emerging demand for Caribbean food with the launch of Levi Roots pasties in chicken and beef variants. Also available are a new smokey bacon sausage roll and corned beef slice. And a new Indian vegetable slice sits alongside classic flavours such as steak and chicken & mushroom.
l Start with a small core range of best sellers
l Once you’ve established a customer base expand your offer with new products and categories
l Locate your display equipment in a high footfall area
l Merchandise complementary products such as soft drinks and coffee nearby and consider link deals or meal deals
l For hot food such as savouries, bake a little and often to maintain freshness and availability
l Start early for the morning rush and don’t forget the afternoon school run and evening rush hour
l If offering coffee, make sure it’s good coffee bean to cup with fresh milk
l Advertise your offer with A-boards, window vinyls and posters
l Keep your equipment clean and tidy
Source: Bake & Bite