Gordon Gekko may have thought lunch was for wimps and dear old Del Boy might have agreed, but forecourt retailers don’t want to wimp out on their lunchtime offer because there’s just too much to lose. According to Mintel, UK consumers spent £27.5bn on eating out in 2005, and within that, around £7bn was spent on lunches. Of course there are numerous businesses vying for consumers’ lunch money but if you get your offer right then you’re guaranteed repeat business.
It might sound odd but when thinking about lunch you’ve really got to start with breakfast. Loads of people don’t have time for breakfast so they pick up something on their way to work. And because these people often don’t get time for lunch either, they often pick up their lunch with their breakfast so the canny operator can pick up two food-to-go sales when one was intended. However it’s no good offering a limited range. If customer x picks up a cheese and pickle sarnie and a Cornish pasty on Monday and he drops back again on Tuesday or even Wednesday, chances are he’s going to want something different. However, that said, sandwiches are still by far the best-selling lunchtime line, but even sandwiches today come with a twist. That twist might be an exotic filling, an unusual bread or even take the form of a wrap or panini.
According to Mintel, growth in the sandwich market has been strong since 2000, with total sales up by 28% to reach £3.6bn in 2005. However, market growth has begun to slow in the past two years. On the plus side, sandwiches are seen as a healthier alternative to other fast food such as burgers, but on the downside they are facing increasing competition from things like sushi.
Mintel quizzed consumers for its research and 51% of those who had bought lunch out, purchased sandwiches, with a further 10% buying wraps, paninis and other hot sandwiches. Nearly a quarter of the adults questioned said they only ever bought sandwiches for lunch, and 17% only ever bought them on weekdays.
Ginsters is of course a huge force in sandwiches. The company’s top five best-selling varieties are: Deep Fill chicken salad; Deep Fill BLT; prawn mayonnaise; Deep Fill egg & bacon; and Deep Fill chargrilled chicken.
Its latest addition is a Deep Fill ’less than 350 calories’ chicken tikka sandwich, designed to plug the gap in the market for full flavour but low-calorie lunchtime eats.
Never afraid to branch out into new territory, Ginsters first launched its wraps range in 2004. Its latest flavours have more exotic fillings including Mexican-style beef with tomato chilli sauce, kidney beans & peppers and southern-style chicken & sweetcorn in a chargrill-flavoured sauce.
Ginsters pasties and pastries are also very popular lunchtime eats and the company has recently launched two new premium pasties: steak & ale and chicken & ham. Both have distinctive packaging for a quality look and packs have been designed in a portrait style for more efficient merchandising. Rrp is £1.99 and Ginsters marketing controller Larry File hopes the premium price will increase profits for forecourts: "In the multiples, premium tiering is an established and successful commercial strategy and we believe the same opportunity exists for a premium tier fixture in the convenience/forecourt sector. The difference in price of 20p per purchase is low enough to attract a first time buyer or to encourage a regular buyer to trade up. But it’s also significant enough to improve the revenue generated from the same fixture for the retailer. We said at the start of the year we intended to innovate the marketplace and the new premium products are one example of how we intend to breathe new life into the snack market."
The company has also added two new Deep Fill slices to its line up. The ham & cheese slice replaces the existing bacon & cheese slice. It contains premium ham in a Cheddar sauce, with a hint of wholegrain mustard and cracked peppercorns. Then there’s the spicy chicken slice, which comprises chicken with potato and onion in a spicy cream sauce.
Ginsters is of course a name that consumers know and love, and Sarah Petts, channel and communications manager for Kraft Foods reckons forecourt retailers should stick to top- selling lines that are trusted by consumers. So from Kraft that means its Philadelphia Splendips all-in-one dipping snack range. The products, which include savoury and sweet versions, are selling well and, according to AC Nielsen data, have already achieved £3.5m-worth of sales since their launch last year.
Meanwhile, Stephen Hatton, market sector manager at Country Choice, reckons making purchases easier and faster for the consumer is the single most effective way for forecourts to improve their lunchtime offering. But, he adds: "Although convenience remains the overriding factor in the consumer’s mind, other issues such as healthy eating are having a growing influence. The key for any retailer therefore is to combine a fast, highly-efficient delivery system at point-of-sale, with a premium quality, balanced fresh-food offering that matches the needs of any consumer entering the forecourt at any time of day. We know that the modern-day consumer’s lifestyle makes some sort of compromise inevitable, however this compromise must be deemed worthwhile and so if a retailer can offer products that are not only convenient but also strike a balance between quality and health, then they will become the consumer’s choice."
Country Choice’s most recent product launch fits the bill. It’s a range of quality salad pots that meet consumer needs for convenience and health. For retailers the range is good news because products require absolutely no preparation - instead they just need to be placed in a chiller. The salad pots are available to the retailer in a mixed selection pack of four: low-fat Thai prawn noodle; tomato & mozzarella pasta; tuna & sweetcorn pasta; and chicken caesar pasta salad. Each salad pot comes complete with a fork.
Not everyone wants a cold lunch every day and with many offices providing microwaves for employee use there’s a growth in demand for the microwaveable snack. Eatwell UK added microwaveable baguettes to its line-up earlier this year. Available with steak & onion, ham & cheese and chicken tikka fillings, they take just two minutes to cook and offer consumers a ’hot and crusty sandwich, with a fresh-baked taste’. The secret to this taste is the inner microwaveable sleeve, which retains heat for quick cooking and also develops the baguette’s crusty finish and ’fresh from the oven’ taste.
At the same time, Eatwell’s microwaveable sandwich and burger range has been put into new packaging with each product presented complete with a sachet of sauce or ketchup for added value and convenience. The range includes bacon cheese burger, bacon & sausage bap, cheese burger, chicken sandwich and BBQ ribsteak sandwich. The products take just 80 seconds to cook and retail at £1.49-£1.69.
Paul Feery, marketing manager for Eatwell, says: "The new packaging has been designed to attract busy shoppers and to communicate exactly just how quick and easy a Feasters product is to prepare and enjoy."
Of course some forecourts have microwaves in store for added customer convenience. Snack brand Rustlers launched the Grab & Go concept in forecourts with branded in-store microwaves so consumers can heat the products in store for immediate consumption.
Grab & Go was originally tested on 25 forecourt sites and was so well received that it was rolled out to 318 forecourts last year and is now in place in more than 350 forecourts nationally. Matthew Jenkins, marketing director for Rustlers, says the concept’s success can be put down to the fact that a hot snack is usually more substantial than a cold sandwich, and people looking for a lunchtime snack to eat on the go want something that will satisfy their hunger.
A piece of fruit is the perfect, healthy ending to lunch but it’s not always available, which is where the Eat Natural range of fruit and nut bars comes in as possibly the next best thing. These bars contain no colourings, flavourings or preservatives but instead just whole chunky nuts, juicy dried fruits, honey and rice puffs. In fact each bar contains between just six and eight ingredients. Currently there are nine different bars in the standard range plus one seasonal bar - blueberry & pistachio.
The brand has grown substantially in recent years and is now listed in major supermarkets. It is also gaining distribution in forecourts.
EAT NOW TIPS
Palmer & Harvey McLane (P&H) has come up with some solid advice for forecourts wanting to cash in on the lunchtime trade:
- place ’eat now’ products near the entrance, with the chiller ideally located nine paces from the entrance;
- merchandise according to need such as hunger, thirst, treat; and vertically block within these segments;
- ensure crisps and snacks are adjacent to the sandwich and savouries chiller;
- introduce eat-now salads, and make sure these are mostly pasta salads
- and introduce chilled fresh desserts.
When it comes to sandwiches, P&H says availability is paramount because consumers could be buying them for breakfast, lunch or an evening snack. Forecourts are advised to offer real consumer choice rather than duplication. P&H recommends a maximum of 25 SKUs, 60% of which should be Deep Fill.