Once was the time when food-to-go meant a cellophane-wrapped sandwich and a hot brown non-descript drink if you were lucky. Today sandwiches are still available but their quality has improved, and hot versions are often on offer too from toasties to paninis. Then there are your hot sausage rolls, hot dogs and burgers. In the days of the cellophane-wrapped sandwich, selling hot food from a forecourt store was unimaginable but today’s concepts make it easy and profitable.

Take Rustlers, the UK’s number one micro-snacking brand (IRI data), which is playing a key role in driving hot food-to-go sales for a family-run forecourt business in mid Wales.

Nick Bradley, director of Bradleys Garage (Newtown), which runs three Texaco filling stations with Costcutter stores in north Powys, says Rustlers meets growing demand among customers for hot food that’s tasty, quick to cook, with no mess.

Recently installed at the 2,000sq ft Newtown Costcutter, a Rustlers-branded hot snack station, with built-in microwave, offers shoppers an alternative to over-the-counter hot food options.

"The Newtown site is on a trunk road through the town, close to offices, an industrial site, housing estate, school and college, so we’ve got a really broad customer base looking for hot and cold snacks," says Nick.

"When we were without a microwave during our refurb, we were surprised how many customers asked when we would be re-introducing it. We hadn’t realised just how much use people made of it."

Indeed sales of Rustlers in Newtown increased by 74% after they installed the microwave and stand. And sales of the Rustlers Quarter Pounder almost doubled up 96%.

Early morning traffic

The Newtown store opens at 6am to catch the early morning traffic a great opportunity to offer customers a hot snack and drink for a fixed price.

"The start of the day is really busy for us. We capitalise on this by selling a Rustlers bacon roll and a coffee for £3 and it’s very popular," explains Nick.

He says for forecourts that don’t want to invest in a hot food counter, but want to serve hot food, micro snacks and a microwave are ideal.

"A hot food counter isn’t right for everyone, but there’s growing demand for hot food-to-go. That’s where micro snacks such as Rustlers, and a microwave, come into their own."

Kepak supports Bradleys with a comprehensive range of pos, including shelf barkers, shelf strips, posters and A-boards.

Another hot food brand that’s going great guns on forecourts is Rollover hot dogs. Part of the Kerry Food Group, the food-to-go brand is already available in over 3,500 locations across the UK. Rollover’s sales and marketing director, Tony Owen, says food-to-go needs to deliver on quality but also on speed of service and ease of shop. "Rollover offers a great solution for forecourts with its Grab & Go warmer. Retailers just have to prepare the hot dogs in advance, put them together in a Rollover foil bag and load them into the warmer. It’s really easy to use and will keep hot dogs warm for four hours."

Rollover launched a hot dog vending unit last year, which Owen says is perfect for busy sites. "It is a great way for consumers to grab a hot dog on the go. Customers with this equipment see a huge impact on sales."

Rollover offers pos material for inside and outside stores to help drive sales. And, aware of the competition in the food-to-go market, the company has just launched new branding for its equipment to keep up with the street food and premium trends. "We are currently working on new sauce bottles to reinforce their premium look and bring some freshness to the brand," Owen says.

Rollover has a calendar of support activities but many consumers know the brand well from its presence in cinemas and stadiums.

The latest launch from Rollover is a limited-edition curry sauce so consumers can spice up their snack and turn it into a Curry Dog.

Derek Leveridge, from Whittington Garage in Kings Lynn, recently went from having no food-to-go to an offer that comprises Country Choice baked goods, Rollover hot dogs and a Tchibo coffee machine.

"The Rollover hot dog concept is brilliant; I’m very pleased with it. It’s an extremely simple operation and the hot dogs are popular we sell 25-30 a day," he says. We sell them at £1.89, I’ve seen them dearer than that, but that price suits us.

"We have signage outside and we pick up a lot of impulse purchases. People from all walks of life enjoy these hot dogs. The other day one of the poshest people I know came in, saw the hot dogs and had one."

Derek is just introducing Rollover’s breakfast sausage, which is a Lincolnshire one. "We’ll have that on until 10am then move to the other sausages."

Sausages are obviously extremely popular in Norfolk as Derek says the Country Choice offering is doing well too, with sausage rolls the most popular item. "And the coffee is brilliant. We are selling 30-40 cups a day; before we had the Tchibo machine we were lucky to do one or two cups every other day.

"The branding is great and the coffee is nice and hot. I know that sounds silly but I’ve known coffee not served hot enough."

He says next on his to-do list is to look at offering some sort of meal deal for food-to-go.

Another hot dog option is available from Mom’s Fabulous Hot Dogs.

The company’s managing director, Nick Pagett, says: "The rise of street food consumption has opened the door to a world of hot dog dining options. Mom’s has seen unprecedented growth in this market with our varied range; we offer something for all tastes, satisfying every family member."

Renowned for using authentic recipes and the finest cuts of coarse ground meat, the range includes the best-selling Mom’s Bad Boy, a huge ’mean and meaty’ dog big enough for the hungriest appetite; Mom’s Chilli Cheese, made with chunks of Gouda; Mom’s Original Hot Dog; and Mom’s Fabulous Frankfurter. The newest item on the menu is Mom’s Beefy Dog, the all-beef gourmet hot dog with a firm, extra smooth texture and a rich and juicy meaty and smoky flavour.

To accompany the hot dogs Mom’s offers three sauces: Tasty Tommy, Mellow Mustard and Bad Boy Chilli Sauce.

"Hot dogs are becoming a popular food offer at forecourts as they are incredibly simple to serve and easy to eat, requiring no kitchen support," says Pagett. "Mom’s has just the right equipment solutions to make hot dog serving easier, no matter what style of operation."

That equipment includes retro style hot dog carts, compact footprint retail steamers, various sized quick-serve warmers and bain maries.

For those of you who’d prefer to go it alone and not offer branded food-to-go, then the Ovention Matchbox or Rotary ovens are worth considering. These both use impingement technology basically hot jets of air to cook food as fast as a microwave but without spoiling it, which microwave cooking can sometimes do. The ovens simply need a 32-amp single-phase mains socket and no ventilation, meaning they are economical and easy to install. The ’no ventilation’ aspect means they can be placed anywhere in store. Prices start at £7,500 but a lease purchase option is available.

Ovention ovens are already used at Liverpool FC, Longleat Safari Park and by forecourt chains HKS and the Sharma Group. Typical items served include chips, thin-based pizza, chicken nuggets and paninis.

Steve Watts, sales director at distributor P&C Advisory Services, says the ovens are cheap to run, costing approximately £4 per day.

"These ovens are very easy to use with up to 1,000 item buttons that can be pre-programmed. The operator then only needs to push the pre-programmed button and the food is cooked exactly the same every time. And there is very little food wastage because you cook only what you need when you need it."

Watts says the quality of the cooked food is amazing. "The trick is to get people to taste the food you’ve cooked in these ovens because it’s seriously good. Nothing else on the market will beat these ovens for speed and quality."

Pastry perfection

There’s no doubt that Ginsters pastry products are popular in forecourts the latest 52-week data from IRI shows that Ginsters’ value sales increased in forecourts by nearly 7% versus last year and now the brand has a near 50% value share of the category the biggest savoury pastry brand in forecourts by far. Jo Hartop, head of corporate and trade communications at Ginsters says: "Our range of savouries and sandwiches is very popular within the forecourt environment and many retailers include these products within their meal deals with a soft drink and packet of crisps."

Ginsters’ top performing savouries include: the Large Sausage Roll; Original Cornish Pasty; Peppered Steak Slice; Large Ploughman’s Roll; Chicken & Mushroom Slice; Ginsters 2pk Mini Pork Pies; Spicy Chicken Slice; Buffet Bar; Ham & Cheese Slice; and Scotch Egg Bar.

Ginsters sandwiches are stocked by many forecourts but its position as the number one branded sandwich was stolen last year by Urban Eat. Part of the Adelie Foods company, Urban Eat was put before a whole new audience last year thanks to a distribution deal with Kerryfresh.

Despite offering a huge array of fillings, Urban Eat’s number one sandwich is the Legends BLT, which typically sells for between £2.79 and £2.99. The company’s UK head of marketing, John Want, says it’s the old 80:20 rule when it comes to range: "Eighty per cent of sales come from the more familiar lines, while 20% is saved for new releases." Typically forecourts only have enough space for 14 varieties, which is why Want recommends concentrating on the core range and top sellers: "You can add a monthly special for interest but the top sellers are what you should be stocking."

Urban Eat’s sandwiches have a three-day shelf life. Typically retailers get deliveries three or four times a week from Kerryfresh, but some get daily deliveries depending on their sales volumes. Want reckons it’s really simple for forecourt stores to have a well-merchandised chiller as there’s lots of help available with pos etc, but he’s still surprised when retailers don’t do it consistently.

"A good, fresh appealing offer can unlock consumer spending," he says. "The key thing for forecourt operators to remember is that outside the multiple forecourts, people still have low expectations in terms of quality and freshness of products," he adds, pointing to the fact that it’s therefore relatively easy to get it right.

But he says retailers need to be careful about perception and price: "Having a locally made sandwich selling at 99p or £1 might sound good to the retailer but it might put customers off."

He adds that meal deals are really important and price is crucial here with £3.49-£3.99 being the sweet spot.

One of Urban Eat’s sub ranges is called Posh Nosh and includes premium sandwiches, wraps, salads and focaccias. There are some interesting varieties including a king prawn and Scottish smoked salmon with lemon and dill crème freche sandwich and Asian style pulled beef & noodle salad with nam jim dressing.

New to the line up is a range of microwaveable burritos in spicy pulled beef, chipotle chicken, BBQ pulled pork and spicy bean varieties.

Urban Eat gives you the chance to tailor your range, as there really is something for everyone. There are healthy yogurt and fruit pots, sushi including ramen noodles and a pot of edamame beans, pasta salad boxes, houmous with carrot and cucumber, as well as halal and gluten free lines.

But Want says: "In forecourts, health is not a big thing but ’being a bit better’ is. By that I mean that some customers would like to switch out a confectionery bar for a granola bar."

Following an initial drive to build distribution which has obviously been very successful the Urban Eat brand is being supported by in-store activation and advertising, with a spend of £3m over the next two years to drive brand awareness. A promotion entitled Mexi-Go is currently under way where consumers who buy any Legends sandwich have a chance to win a luxury holiday to Cancun and many other prizes. If they find a card in their pack they are a winner. The activity runs until February 2016.

Top tips for food-to-go success

Stock core range products alongside limited editions. There are many different shoppers within the category so a good range of food-to-go options is essential.
As food-to-go shoppers are usually in a hurry, items should be clearly visible and near to the front of the store to entice the customer to make a decision as soon as possible.
As sandwiches are the number one lunchtime food-to-go item, ensure they are stocked at eye level, so ideally on the second or third shelf.
The central ’hot spot’ area on the shelf should carry the category best sellers according to each food-to-go sub-category within savoury, sandwiches and drinks. In terms of Ginsters savoury lines, the top three best sellers are the Large Sausage Roll, Original Cornish Pasty and Peppered Steak Slice. In the sandwiches category, the best sellers are Deep Fill Chicken & Bacon Sandwich, Ham & Cheese and BLT.
Position the drinks fixture next to the food chiller where possible. For the clearest selection process all food-to-go should be positioned in one bay and drinks in an adjacent bay with snacks (crisps and confectionery) within arms’ reach. This is particularly useful with regard to meal deals.
Ensure that the shopper is directed to the food-to-go fixture with clear signage and that once at the fixture, clear and impactful pos is used to make the fixture easy to shop.
Stock a brand your shoppers know and trust.
Run meal deals to add shopper value, drive loyalty and footfall, and increase basket spend.

Source: Ginsters

Tuk Tuk into this

Country Choice’s latest food-to-go offering is the Tuk Tuk concept which allows you to serve up a hot cup of rice or noodles with a choice of sauce Indian-, Chinese- or Thai-based enhanced with an array of extra ingredients and accompaniments.
Three levels of equipment are available, ranging from a simple countertop unit to a countertop unit with cart or a bespoke grab and go/self-serve solution. But with the same equipment being used across all of Country Choice’s concepts (Tuk Tuk, Pasta Pronto and Hudson’s Gourmet) retailers can ring the changes throughout the week simply by switching ingredients and branding.
Tuk Tuk offers Jasmine rice and Chinese noodles, which are cut into short lengths to make them easy to eat on the go, straight from the pot. The Asian sauces, available frozen, chilled or ambient, include favourites such as: sweet & sour chicken; chicken in black bean sauce and Thai green chicken curry. Additional ingredients (chicken, Quorn products, peppers, mushrooms and other vegetables) are available to customise the sauces, alongside a range of accompaniments onion bhajis, naan bread, poppadoms and prawn crackers to complete the Asian meal.
The Tuk Tuk countertop unit comprises an ambient pan for holding the rice and noodles prior to reheating; a refresher to reheat the rice within 20 seconds and the noodles in under 10 seconds; and a bain-marie for holding the hot sauces at the required temperature.