When your customers want a hot snack, they want it fast, and what could be quicker than a hot dog from Rollover’s new Grab & Go unit? The brightly coloured unit with its ’freshly prepared today’ message takes consumers through three simple steps: help yourself; pay at the till; add sauce and enjoy.

Rollover’s sales and marketing director, Tony Owen, says: "The vending-style unit delivers a big impact bringing the product to the forefront in a bright and clean way with strong branding and high-quality product shots. The first few vending units have gone out into selected sites and initial reports are excellent."

One of those sites was Spar Stanshawe Service Station in Yate, Bristol. Manager Sue Kembrey says they had a forecourt warmer put in last autumn but she saw a mock-up of the vending unit at the Convenience Retailing Show at the NEC in March and liked it. "We saw it again at an Appleby Westward Trade Show at the beginning of September, and it was delivered mid September. We are now selling around 12 hot dogs a day, in a very competitive location. Forecourts tend to sell them at £1.99, but we sell them at £1.79, which tends to be the convenience sector price point."

Sue says there is no particular pattern to sales they differ from one day to the next and from one week to the next. But she maintains that’s not a problem as the minimal time required to prepare the food means the hot dogs can be available all day up to around an hour before the shop closes.

The new vending unit takes up no more space than the original amount occupied by the base of the forecourt warmer, says Sue.

"We’ve sited it with our hot food server and hot drinks vending unit, creating a run of on-the-go food."

She says the Rollover system is very easy for staff to use, and for customers it’s a ’no brainer’, as the product is sold ready wrapped so they serve themselves.

Sue says customers really like the hot dogs and many are already familiar with the brand thanks to its availability at sports and other leisure venues.

"If you offer hot food already, then Rollover is a useful addition to the range," Sue advises. "If you don’t, it is low cost/low risk, with a strong brand and support team behind it, so I would urge you to try it," she says.

As well as the new vending unit, Rollover has launched a new set of attention-grabbing point-of-sale material for forecourts.

"We felt that good sales could be further improved by making a much greater impact, both roadside and inside the store," says Owen. "Hot dogs are entertaining food and we thought that we should be able to do something fun and iconic for forecourts and our new roadside point of sale really delivers. At 2m it makes a massive impact, although we do have a smaller mobile version too."

Another easy way of offering hot food-to-go in your store is via the £457m hot, quick and tasty (HQT) category (IRI data). HQT products are those that are kept chilled, can be prepared in less than five minutes, and need nothing added to them.

With sales growth of 24% over the past five years, over 15 million households now buy into the category each year, which equates to over one million HQT packs sold every day.

John Armstrong, marketing director at Kepak Convenience Foods, reckons the category is poised for more growth as more forecourt retailers adopt key HQT merchandising principles in-store and more HQT products are launched to meet the growing demand for these type of products.

"The HQT category is one of the most dynamic sectors of the chilled foods market on track to reach annual sales of £1bn within a decade," he says. "A major benefit of the category is that it provides a wide range of products suitable for a variety of shopper missions including lunchtime and dinner but also a late-night snack or a fridge-filler quick meal. When stocked alongside an in-store microwave, it enables retailers to sell hot food at all times with ease."

Kepak’s Hot Snack Station stands with microwaves are available at £600 plus VAT, with the stand on its own priced at £360 plus VAT and the microwave only from just £240 plus VAT.

Armstrong says offering hot food is very important: "Our research has shown that shoppers are now snacking more throughout the day instead of the three traditional meals a day. The HQT category can help retailers tap into this opportunity as shoppers look for warm and substantial eats during the day."

Kepak’s HQT products include Rustlers burgers and Zugo’s Deli Café pasta pots and paninis. Armstrong says the development of the range is based on identifying consumers’ favourite products from within mainstream foodservice and then translating these into retail products that are convenient and meet the demand for substantial snacks in between meals.

"Kepak draws inspiration from a number of food outlets, from pub food, to casual dining restaurants, takeaways, fast food chains and leisure outlets. A good example is our recently launched Rustlers tikka chicken hot naan, made using chargrilled chicken and served in a hand-pulled naan with a sachet of sauce to deliver an authentic Indian taste. This takes inspiration from Indian ready meals, the fastest-growing section of the ready meals category."

Food safaris

Research for Kepak’s new products begins with ’food safaris’ extensive visits to the places and venues that its consumers go to for their favourite foods. "It’s important for us to see what is being established or what new formats are being developed," explains Armstrong.

"Working with consumers, we then devise prototypes to see if the products are likely to deliver well against the concept promise. Finally, we analyse how the new product will fit into the current range will it bring incremental growth, or have any further positive impact on the current offering if so, we take the necessary steps to launch it."

Sales of Kepak food-to-go products are on the up at Malcom’s Stores at Tile Hill in Coventry thanks to the introduction of a Kepak-branded microwave and chiller unit in February. Since then sales of food-to-go products have risen by 20%, with the Rustlers quarter pounder, BBQ rib and chicken sandwich proving to be best sellers.

Paul Cheema, director of Malcolm’s Stores, says the decision to install a combined microwave and chiller concept in store was driven by a need ’to create simplicity’ for customers and develop the food-to-go offering. "We’re based in a neighbourhood location, with a diverse customer base. Predominantly it’s a working class area, with a lot of families, but we get a broad range from commercial shoppers looking to pop in and fill up at the pumps, to elderly customers coming in from nearby sheltered accommodation.

"From the beginning Kepak were extremely helpful, working with us to develop the right concept that sat well with our current food-to-go offering of sandwiches, snacks and drinks as well as our shopper demographic. The combination of the microwave and chiller unit has certainly made customers stop and think about the convenient nature of the products and being able to heat and eat on the go."

As well as the new microwave and chiller unit, Kepak has also worked with the store on an ongoing basis to develop new concepts and promotions for the HQT range, with the Rustlers brand as the driving force.

"We would advise other retailers that it’s important to work with a company you can trust," says Paul, "and from what we’ve seen Kepak really deliver. As well as getting great results, they really focus on giving back to retailers and developing a positive ongoing partnership.

"We’d certainly recommend that other forecourts look to install a microwave in their store."

Food labelling changes

From December 13, new EU food labelling laws come into force which require allergen information on pre-packed, non pre-packed or loose foods.
The main part of this involves improved labelling to state the presence of 14 allergens that may be used in foods you sell to ensure detailed information is provided to consumers prior to purchase. Those 14 allergens are: cereals containing gluten; crustaceans eg prawns; eggs; fish; peanuts; soya; milk; nuts; celery; mustard; sesame; sulphur dioxide; lupin; and molluscs eg mussels.
This information is over and above what is already required, namely product name, product description, additives declaration, meat content and vegetarian status.
Suppliers are obviously keen to help retailers adhere to the new rules.
At Country Choice, for instance, its shelf-edge labels for loose items now indicate the allergens contained in each product. And all Country Choice pre-packed products, such as Rocky Road cake slices and muffins will detail any allergens within each product as part of the ingredient declaration on pack, with any allergens shown in a bold font.
For products used to make up, say a breakfast bap, Country Choice can provide an ’Allergens Component List’ detailing the relevant allergens for each component. This is because of the variety of recipes and ingredients used. And to provide clear guidance to consumers on how they can obtain allergen information for these products Country Choice is providing an extra shelf edge label which states: ’Allergen Advice: Please speak to a member of staff.’
Due to the extensive variety of products it supplies, all Country Choice display equipment must also have an additional shelf-edge label stating: ’May contain nuts, seeds and other allergens’.
As a food business owner, you need to ensure that all members of your staff are aware of these changes and know where to find the information should a customer request it. As a food-to-go operator, you are responsible for the accuracy and availability of the allergen information you provide. As part of its ’one-stop’ solution for retailers, Country Choice can provide all the information and support you need to ensure you are able to comply with this new legislation.

Take the Subway

With over 42,000 stores worldwide in 105 countries, Subway is the largest sandwich franchise in the world. In the UK and Ireland, Subway now has over 1,900 stores, and of these, over 400 are open in ’non-traditional’ locations, such as on petrol forecourts, in convenience stores, or at universities.
Subway says it is its strong brand recognition and the ability to fit into small spaces that appeals to many forecourt and convenience store operators. The flexibility of its franchise system, the simplicity of operations and low start-up costs ensure that a Subway is well suited to these trading environments. The company adds that development in "non-traditional" locations will continue to be an important area of focus for the brand. It is already seeing increasing interest from retailers including Blakemore Retail, Applegreen, Budgens and Euro Garages.
Greg Madigan, area development manager for Subway in UK and Ireland comments: "We understand that people like to buy from brands that they trust. The Subway brand has global recognition and is trusted by millions of customers worldwide. Customers know that every store will be able to offer them a wide range of choice, including a variety of both toasted and cold products, and great value. 
"A forecourt store partnering with the Subway brand offers their customers the opportunity to buy a brand, which is well-known and regarded around the world. What’s more, Subway is a committed partner to the UK government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal and the only quick service restaurant to have endorsed eight nutrition-related pledges."

Ginsters gets hot

Ginsters has made its first foray into hot food by investing significantly in its bakery in Callington, Cornwall. This has allowed it to produce a number of unbaked frozen lines which it has been trialling in over 100 Co-op petrol forecourt stores across the country.
The line-up includes sausage rolls, slices and pasties plus Ginsters has worked with the Co-op to develop new lines such as the sausage, cheese & bean slice which has only been in store for a few weeks and is already a top seller.