The Fraser Group had always found it hard to make a success of the food-to-go sector. Owners Robert and Hugh Fraser knew how important the category could be to a forecourt but somehow could not seem to make it work well enough for them until recently. The retailers, who have five BP sites, decided that in order to develop the business at their Carterton site in Oxfordshire, they needed to upgrade the Spar store and offer a point of difference. They carried out some research and one thing became clear: there was potential to develop and capitalise on the existing food-to-go offer.
After consultation with Spar wholesaler Capper & Co’s development department, they completed a redesign of the 2,000sq ft store and, in February this year, put in their first Subway, complete with seating area.
And rather than lease the space to someone else and let them run the Subway on the site, the Frasers decided to do the job themselves.
Robert says: "What Subway has given us is a disciplined approach to running the business and a huge number of procedures to make sure we’re doing everything correctly.
"By bringing in Subway you’re bringing in a huge brand. I think it’s almost as well known as McDonald’s really. And for us, it’s something that works. It wouldn’t necessarily work for everyone you need to look at the location and the demographics. But for us, at this site, it has been successful."
Robert believes his company is one of the first to take on the franchise itself rather than lease the space to someone else. He adds: "Having Subway brings in a different customer to the shop. The site becomes a destination stop, and we all want our sites to be those."
It’s hard to ignore the growing popularity of Subway, which is now present in more than 100 forecourt or convenience stores around the country.
Caroline Thomson, national accounts manager for Subway, says the chain is hoping to expand further in the sector: "I’ve seen many companies quickly integrate Subway stores into forecourts and convenience stores to great success. Our collaborative approach delivers real benefits for companies, including increased footfall, sales and excellent growth opportunities. There is real potential in a partnership with the Subway chain and we are looking forward to further expanding our store count."
On a mission
In recent years, food-to-go has become a very important category for forecourts. According to Him’s CTP Tracking Programme spring 2010 it is now the most important ’mission’ for visiting a forecourt aside from purchasing fuel. Over 1,000 customers were surveyed and 48% of them said food-to-go was their main reason for visiting, followed by buying a newspaper or magazine.
Meanwhile, forecourts are extremely well placed to cater for the average type of customer looking for food-to-go. In the latest Food-to-go report by IGD, one in five of all consumers who have meals-to-go are ’fanatics’, buying them four or more times a week. And they are more likely to be male, aged under 45 and in employment pretty much the average forecourt customer.
However, experts warn that the recession is having an impact on this sector like most others.
IGD researchers say: "Twenty one per cent of food-to-go consumers are eating more at home and 16% are preparing more lunches at home to eat on the go. This has restricted sales growth but food-to-go remains broadly resilient with good long-term prospects." The report found that nearly half (47%) of food-to-go consumers had economised on food- or drink-to-go due to the economic downturn particularly women; those aged 25-44; and those in lower social groups. In addition, 10% were more likely to stick to a set budget.
Cost and service were both very important. Around a third of those asked described price as a key driver of store choice for food-to-go, while 46% mentioned service.
And the good news is that once a customer is inside your shop, they are more likely to be impulsive in this category. According to IGD, 17% mainly make up their mind in store compared to 11% on main shopping trips. And more than half are "sometimes tempted to change their mind about what to purchase in store, particularly those in high and middle social groups".
Stephen Clifford, marketing controller at Country Choice, agrees that a number of factors, including the recession, have had an impact on food-to-go sales.
But he advises retailers that this area can be highly profitable if handled correctly. Clifford says: "Suppressed fuel volumes and slim margins mean that non-fuel sales are of paramount importance.
"Food-to-go, particularly hot food, provides high-margin opportunities for forecourt retailers who should be looking for at least a £1 profit per item on hot savouries or filled baguettes, even after allowing for packaging, waste, and labour.
"Food-to-Go and coffee are ideal product categories for motorists as they meet a genuine need and it is crucial that they are given a prominent position in store. Too many forecourts give valuable till space to gadgets and toys which, although they carry a high unit margin, have a low rate of sale."
One of the key initiatives which Country Choice has been working on over the past 12 months has been providing forecourts with display units and products that actively disrupt the shopper’s journey from pump to till. For example, Clifford says its four-shelf dumpbin is highly flexible and carries a range of thaw and serve confectionery products which are easy to prepare (simple defrosting) and have a two- to four-day shelf life.
Meanwhile, Kate Raison, Bakehouse marketing director, says: "Since the beauty of bake-off is that you should bake little and often to avoid wastage and keep your fixture looking fresh, it is ideal for targeting customers with differing on-the-go eating situations."
She reckons there are plenty of opportunities during the day to make the most of bake-off:
weekday morning tempt busy commuters with a range of indulgent breakfast products such as croissants and Danish pastries. With an easy-to-use bean-to-cup coffee machine and a simple bake-off first thing, you will entice customers to ’trade up’ and buy their breakfast on the way to work.
mid morning this is the time to capitalise on the growth in coffee culture and offer a coffee and sweet pastry takeaway deal.
lunchtimes bake-off again late morning, ready for the lunchtime trade. This time the advice is to choose quality savoury pastries that are more of a meal replacement.
For Ginsters, it’s all about innovation. It has been adding new products to its range all year, including two new recipes that it introduced into its wraps line-up this summer BBQ beef and fiery cheese. Andy Valentine, Ginsters head of brand marketing, says shoppers want to experiment with flavours: "Savoury wraps is an area we’re keen to develop given the continued popularity of the format and the growing consumer desire for an array of tastes beyond traditional ingredient combinations."
Meanwhile, variety is also important. Valentine adds: "The success of our pork pie range, with its variety of pie and pack sizes, serves to demonstrate how well varying formats can work for snacking occasions. Our loyal consumers have already shown a real liking for our ploughman’s pork pie, containing Red Leicester cheese and pickle, and we expect our handy new mini snack packs to be just as big a hit."
Beef it up
According to Kepak Convenience Foods, which makes Rustlers, the UK’s hot snacking category is playing a major role in the emerging meat snacking market as hot snacking products are now more relevant to forecourts and consumers than ever before.
It says that its Panini brand Ugo’s Deli Café, launched two years ago, is already highly successful and has created new lunchtime profit opportunities and attracted new consumers to hot snacking.
And the company says it is set to increase its share of the midday meal market with more product launches.
This includes a new variant of Ugo’s Deli Café chicken, mozzarella & black olive tapenade on a tomato and herb panini, and new Rustlers hot subs which come in two variants southern fried chicken with creamy mayo and tangy meatballs with tomato & herb sauce. Branded Kepak microwaves are also available for retailers.
As with all Kepak products, Rustlers hot subs and Ugo’s Deli Café paninis have longer-than-average shelf lives compared to pies, pasties and sandwiches which helps cut waste.
Country Choice has also launched a new range of microwaveable paninis that it says allows retailers to offer crispy hot sandwiches straight from frozen.
The range has a specially designed ’cardboard crisper’ which prevents the bread from going soggy and Country Choice says the products are designed for forecourts as retailers can serve cooked-to-order, crispy Paninis reheated in the microwave in just two minutes.
The range has four varieties, including ham & mozzarella and tuna melt.
The company has also introduced a range of Halal-certified foods aimed at catering for sites in areas which have a strong demand for food prepared according to Islamic law.
The Country Choice Halal food-to-go range offers three chicken choices battered chicken nuggets, breaded chicken fillet, southern fried chicken fillet, plus a lamb burger and a quarter pounder beef burger.
Copies of Halal certificates for each product are available on request.
l Bake little and often. This ensures that there is always a selection of warm products with that delicious freshly-baked aroma to tempt customers and this helps keep the products at their freshest. Fresh baking creates theatre which adds value to the customer experience and encourages impulse purchasing.
l Pay attention to display. Customers buy with their eyes so only bake as much as you need and don’t stack the pastries on display they will end up looking flat and unappealing.
l Always display products in the paper cases provided. And don’t forget to use the topping bags included in the case to ensure appealing presentation.
l Stock the right range the leading, advertised brands which have consumer recognition and trust.
l Availability is key when selling sandwiches and savouries. They are bought throughout the day, not just at lunchtime, so the best-selling SKUs should always be on sale.
l Savouries and sandwiches are the key drivers for the snacking and sharing occasion. They must be in a highly visible location.
l ’Eye level is buy level’, so put your best-selling, high-margin SKUs at eye level to drive sales. If necessary, double-face the top sellers.
l The brand leader can be used as a category signpost to draw consumers into the store. Impulse sales can be boosted by using clear signage and pos on the fixture.
l Consumer buying is occasion-led and the fixture should be merchandised accordingly, eg planned meals, easy meals and snacking/sharing.
l Where possible, the Ginsters brand should be merchandised as a central block across the fixture to exploit the high number of Ginsters loyalists.
l Savoury products sell better when the consumer can see the full front of the pack, so merchandising kits are very useful to ensure that the products stand up on-shelf and are clearly visible.