Research company Him’s Convenience Tracking Programme 2013 has revealed that "more hot food-to-go" would encourage people to use forecourt stores more for breakfast and lunches.

But over the years, many convenience retailers have got their fingers burnt with hot food perhaps because they’ve been too ambitious. However, today there are some simple some might say even fool-proof solutions.

Stephen Clifford, marketing controller at Country Choice, says the easiest way for a forecourt retailer to get into the hot food-to-go market is with a counter-top Hot Spot unit and a compact four-tray oven. "This combination of units allows a retailer to offer a core range of hot food-to-go items based on the site’s location and customer demographic. Typically this range would include: sausage roll; bacon & cheese turnover; steak bake; potato dog; Cornish pasty; cheese & smoked ham bake; chicken tikka masala bake and cheese & onion bake."

Clifford reckons that a retailer with this concept can expect to sell around 40 products per day, which will deliver a turnover of approximately £300 per week and a profit of around £132 per week (£6,000-£7,000 per annum).

"There are a number of other small-to-intermediate equipment solutions available depending upon the size of the store and its footfall, and these range from free-standing hot display units to countertop displays with an oven built into the base. It would take more space than we have here to go through all the various permutations but needless to say we think we have a concept to fit any site."

Clifford recognises that there is a "significant aspirational aspect to bake-off and food-to-go" but he recommends not diving straight into a huge, full-blown operation as he says Country Choice’s most successful retailers are those who have started off with a relatively modest operation and then, having built up both their knowledge and consumers’ confidence, have gone on to develop their offer based on this experience.

When it comes to equipment, it can be purchased outright or Country Choice can advise on other funding options such as rental or lease.

"We recently made it even easier for retailers to enter the in-store bakery market with the introduction of our entry-level bakery concept," says Clifford. "For retailers looking to add a food-to-go offering, we can support them with an equipment package that costs about £1,600 and will allow them to offer a small range of hot savoury pastries. A reasonably busy store with a good daily display of hot food could generate up to £10,000 gross profit a year."

From an operational point of view, Clifford says you might think that the back of the store near the freezers is the best place to site your food-to-go offering, or even in a convenient alcove somewhere. But he says that in reality, the best place for it is a high-traffic location where it is most visible.

He adds: "More and more retailers are now ’dual merchandising’, which essentially means that in addition to the main category fixtures they also have a food-to-go area which brings a selection of items together in one place. The best location for this is near the till or close to the entrance to the store."

Simple sausages

A big success story in the forecourt sector has been Rollover hot dogs. Top 50 Indie Sewell Group offers Rollover hot dogs at eight of its 12 sites. And sales development manager, Katherine Batch, says the hot dogs are very popular. "We use two solutions, depending on the space in store. One is where the hot dogs are kept in a warmer and customers help themselves; the other is where we serve the customers.

"Both are extremely popular the hot dogs are always our top-selling hot food item in the stores where we have them. Our Hull West site, for example, sells between 30 and 35 a day." She confirms that the Rollover concept is simple to use, takes up little space (the steamer measures just 36cm x 38cm), and leads to very little wastage.

Rollover expects outlets to be able to sell at least 10-20 hot dogs a day and says that to make it viable for the firm to provide a free machine, sites need to sell over 60 a week which sites like Sewell Retail’s do easily.

As well as the free-on-loan equipment, Rollover provides a free sauce station and free point of sale material.

Elodie Bretz, brand manager for Rollover, says: "Our customers can expect a fantastic rate of sale and excellent margins with minimal wastage (0-5%). We have many retailers selling over 200 hot dogs a week and making over £6,000 profit a year." The Rollover operation is all about simplicity. There’s no cooking and the sausage is supplied ambient and pre-cooked, plus there is free training and back-up support.

The sausages are traditional bockwurst from Germany, smoked over beechwood to give a better flavour. They contain 87% pork with no MRM (mechanically recovered meat) or GM (genetically modified) ingredients.

Meanwhile the hot dog rolls are supplied frozen. They take two hours to defrost and will stay fresh for two days in an airtight container.

Heat and eat

Kepak Convenience Foods is setting its sights on increased sales of its micro-snacking products in forecourts over the cold, winter months.

As temperatures drop, and motorists typically opt for more hot food on their journey breaks, Kepak is actively promoting its range of in-store ’heat and eat’ units, which enable drivers to heat chilled food in a matter of minutes.

"Not every forecourt has the space or staffing levels for a hot food counter," says Kepak marketing director John Armstrong. "Our solution a pre-programmed, branded microwave, or a complete heat and eat unit is ideal for forecourts that want to give motorists a hot food option such as market-leading Rustlers or Zugo’s Deli Café.

"The microwave or heat and eat unit will either complement a hot food counter or provide a lower-cost, easy-to-maintain alternative."

The Kepak microwave costs just £140 and is pre-set for a range of ’Hot, Quick & Tasty’ products, not just Kepak best-sellers Rustlers and Zugo’s Deli Café. Kepak also offers a purpose-built heat and eat stand with microwave (£500), with built-in bin and point of sale. Both prices are ex-VAT.

Kepak reckons that by developing the new ’Hot, Quick & Tasty’ category it will enable forecourts to boost sales of micro-snacking products.

"We took a long, hard look at a group of chilled products that suit the quick, hot meal occasion, either at home or on the move, but are different to ready meals, cold snacks and sandwiches. Products in the Hot, Quick & Tasty category are chilled, prepared in less than five minutes, need nothing added to them and are for the single-serve occasion," explains Armstrong.

For ease of merchandising and, at the same time, recognising the fact that people are now shopping by mission and snacking at all times of the day, Kepak has split the category into four sub sectors: micro snacking, micro pastry, quick-serve micro meals and chilled soup.

"Many forecourts already stock many of these product types. The key to making the most of the Hot, Quick & Tasty category is to merchandise the sub-sectors together," says Armstrong.

Kepak also provides a range of point of sale to draw shoppers’ attention to its products.

Hot off the press

Country Choice’s most recent launch is a range of Hot Snack Pack items including: potato wedges; mini rosti bites; breaded chicken goujons; chicken wings; and battered chicken chunks. Made from shredded potato, the lightly seasoned, formed and flash-fried mini rosti bites are a great way of encouraging breakfast customers to trade up. They can be baked from frozen in 20 minutes, packaged in the new Hot Snack Pack and displayed for up to two hours. The seasoned potato wedges are a pre-fried, skin-on potato wedge with a spicy coating a giant jacket potato wedge is also available. The breaded chicken goujons comprise chopped and shaped chicken pieces coated in breadcrumbs.
Heinz Beanz are now available on the food-to-go market thanks to a link up with pie and pasty maker Peter’s Foods. As a result, there are four Heinz Beanz-branded slices made under licence by Peter’s. There’s a plain Beanz variant as well as one with cheese, spicy meatballs or smoky sausage. Also available are sausage rolls topped with either Heinz tomato ketchup, HP brown sauce or Heinz Ploughman’s Pickle. The products can be eaten hot or cold.
Starbucks recently celebrated the nationwide launch of its breakfast offer with a special deal a hot breakfast sandwich and a drink for £2. Meanwhile, the firm has opened its first tea bar called Teavana Fine Teas and Tea Bar in New York.
In its interim statement for the 13 weeks to September 28, Greggs reported that its first franchise shop with Euro Garages, was trading well.
Kepak has unveiled two new flavours for its fast-growing Zugo’s Deli Café panini range: Mediterranean chicken with mozzarella; and four cheese with sweet red onion chutney. The Mediterranean chicken panini is made using 100% chicken breast with a sundried tomato and garlic sauce. The four cheese combines mozzarella, Emmental, mature Cheddar and soft cheese. Both are made with a stone baked ciabatta. John Armstrong, marketing director at Kepak, says: "According to the British Sandwich Association, chicken and cheese are the two best-selling sandwich fillings, so we know that these new variants will be very popular with consumers, creating more profit opportunities for retailers."The new products join the existing chargrilled chicken, mozzarella & pesto Panini; bacon, cheese & mustard mayonnaise panini and two pasta pot variants. Zugo’s Deli Café, now a £7m brand, has grown 14% year on year (IRI data).