We’re all consumers so we all know how easy it is to get fed up with certain sandwiches or snacks. Sometimes we need a change. So imagine, for a moment, being a regular lunchtime shopper in your forecourt store. You visit two or three times a week to pick up a sandwich, some crisps and a drink. What sort of choice do you have? Has it been the same old selection of BLT, chicken salad or prawn on offer for the past few months or have there been any new additions? You can see where this is heading. The consumer gets cheesed off with cheese & pickle and heads elsewhere to spend his five quid or more on his lunch.

This is something that Andy Valentine, head of brand marketing at Ginsters, is well aware of and it’s the reason behind a major refresh of the Ginsters range.

"We’ve done a lot of research, talking to regular sandwich and savoury shoppers who said they found the fixtures a bit boring. They wanted more innovation; they didn’t really want new flavours but existing flavours with a novel twist. That was the motivation for our relaunch, to shake things up and make things more fresh and appetising by bringing in things like interesting new breads.

"We wanted to appeal to what we call variety seekers."

As a result, Ginster’s refreshed range has 11 new products including West Country rolls which feature the finest ingredients such as West Country mature Cheddar, smoked West Country chicken and hand-carved honey roast ham. There’s also a premium range of deep-filled sandwiches in sustainable card packaging, as well as a wider vegetarian choice, more hand-crafted bread options, and lower-calorie and mayonnaise-free alternatives.

Ginsters’ track record on sandwiches is impressive. According to the TNS impulse food-on-the-go figures (52 w/e Jan 28, 2007), Ginsters is the leading branded sandwich maker with a 26.9% market share. TNS puts the sandwich market as being worth £2.9bn with growth of 6.3% during 2006.

Valentine says Ginsters is brand leader in forecourts by a long way: "Ninety per cent of branded savoury pastries in forecourts are Ginsters."

Best seller is the large sausage roll, followed by original Cornish pastie then slices. But there’s also a new range for consumers to enjoy: "Pasties have historically been fairly traditional," explains Valentine. "But we recently introduced our Savouries of the World to add a bit more fun to the range."

So there’s Indian spicy beef, Italian meat feast and Mexican spicy chicken - all made using West Country ingredients but with recipes from further afield. Valentine is convinced these pasties will bring new consumers to the brand. Radio ads support the new range.

Pasties bought in forecourts have traditionally been eaten by white van men, but Valentine says they appeal much more to women now. "The fact that we use fresh British ingredients has helped, and the fact we source as much as possible locally. Blokes are interested in flavours and fillings, whereas women are more concerned about quality ingredients and where they come from."

He says the healthy eating trends have not impacted on sales. "Nine out of 10 households buy into the savoury pastry market so sales are steady for us. We don’t include a calorie count or fat content message on packs; we just stick to wholesome ingredients."

According to Valentine, part of Ginsters’ success in forecourts is its ’market-leading availability’. "More forecourts are moving towards a solus brand position with us and in return for that we can guarantee availability at a very high level."

A big bonus is the fact that van sales teams manage stock for busy retailers. "Our team uses electronic hand-held devices to look at stock levels and alter them accordingly. We track sales on a daily basis to minimise waste - that’s our real point of difference, that we work with retailers on their ranges. There’s a fine balance between making sure availability is as good as it can be without increasing waste."

He says strong branding at the point of sale also helps Ginsters position in forecourts: "Sandwiches and savouries are a real destination purchase so food-to-go needs to be clearly signposted. Consumers are time-pressured; they want to be able to see the chiller and quickly make their purchase. They also have different requirements on different days of the week. They might have had a hard day and want to treat themselves; they may be really hungry and need something filling. We need to make sure there is clear tiering on-shelf so they can find what they want in seconds. If the fixture is difficult to shop, they won’t bother. If you’ve a cluttered fixture with duplicated lines you’re more likely to lose a sale."

== Health rules ==

According to Stephen Hatton, market sector manager at Country Choice, there’s been a noticeable shift in consumer demand for lunches in the past year - and that shift has been towards healthier options.

"Freshly-filled baguettes continue to gain in popularity and as they do so, we are seeing a discernible move towards healthier carriers such as wholemeal baguettes, and healthier fillings, such as those that contain no mayo. This is a clear demonstration of consumers wanting to eat more healthily.

"Salads, and in particular fruit salads, are also showing strong growth. Even in the savoury pastry sector, which I don’t think anyone would ever describe as ’low fat’, consumers appear to be doing their best to follow the ’better for you’ trend by choosing provenance products like our Aberdeen Angus steak bake."

== breakfast blur ==

Hatton adds that the boundary between breakfast and lunch continues to blur and it’s actually arguable whether any definite boundary exists any more.

"We’ve seen a huge growth in the sale of ’All day breakfast baps’, which sell right through to the early afternoon while conversely many retailers are selling freshly-filled baguettes during what was once the traditional breakfast period of 7.30am to 10am.

"However, we are noticing increased activity in the traditionally quiet post lunch/early afternoon period and this is being driven as much by the retailers as the consumers."

Hatton says many retailers have extended their offer into the afternoon and early evening:"While it is possible for them to do this with their existing product range, we are constantly looking for ways to help them grow their business," he says.

"And that is why we have recently launched two new concepts specifically aimed at this time of day - rotisserie chicken and pizza."

So, according to the experts, the message is simple - keep your lunchtime offer varied and interesting, and your customers should keep coming back.


=== Case study: Somerfield/Texaco ===

When Somerfield took over 94 of Texaco’s forecourt stores it decided to focus more on hot food with a wide menu including pies and breakfast rolls, as well as in-store bakery lines like fresh bread and pastries.

Steve Tremlett, head of formats at Somerfield, chose the Rational SelfCooking Center to cook the food. "You can’t expect staff in a forecourt store to be trained bakers or chefs," he says, "but there’s increasing competition in this sector and unless the hot food offering is consistently good, people will vote with their feet. We needed a means of delivering top-quality hot food - but one that didn’t require highly skilled staff."

The Rational SelfCooking Center uses the latest technology to cook or bake foods fully automatically. Apparently top chefs including Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal use the equipment in their restaurants’ kitchens.

In ’SelfCooking’ mode, untrained staff are guaranteed perfect results because all they have to do is select the food and push the button. The intelligent Center takes over, choosing the best ’climate’ and time to cook the food, leaving the staff time to carry out other duties.

Only when the food is cooked will the operator need to return to the Rational.

Most of the Somerfield stores have two Rational SelfCooking Center 61 (six grid) units, stacked one on top of the other. "This gives us great flexibility, but keeps the footprint down, saving space in the kitchen area," says Tremlett.

The oven even cleans itself, unsupervised, at the end of the shift.

The first forecourt store to get the Rational units was the Solent Texaco Somerfield store, Gosport, Hampshire. Rational went to the site to train the staff and feedback has been good with staff saying the unit is very user-friendly.


=== Ones to watch ===

? The Holland’s To Go range is currently stocked by all Kay Group sites as well as many other independent forecourts across the North West. Holland’s says its point of difference is the fact that it is the first cold-eat shortcrust pastry range on the market with shortcrust pastry equating to fewer crumbs and less mess than flaky. It can also be microwaved and boasts packaging that can be used as a holder to eat from. Recent additions to the range include chicken & mushroom and ham & cheese slices and a sausage roll.

? Kepak is investing £4.5m in its Rustlers brand led by peak-time, nationwide TV advertising. Other support includes a national product sampling campaign. Kepak reports that the number of households buying Rustlers has grown by around 30%.

? New from Cuisine de France’s Cuisine to Go concept is the Heat and Eat range. It comprises six pre-filled sandwiches which are ready to go in as little as 90 seconds. Varieties include ham & cheese toastie, bacon baguette and onion bhaji naan. Products are delivered frozen and defrosted as required.

? Kraft Foods is relaunching Philadelphia Snack packs to independent retailers in pricemarked packs of 59p. Packs contain Italian breadsticks with light Philadelphia cheese. Commenting on why Kraft Foods has decided to bring back this old favourite, Dave McNulty, instant consumption channel customer director for Kraft Foods, says: "Our research shows that adult consumers want portion and calorie-controlled snacks that are conveniently packed just for them."

? According to AC Nielsen data, the cheese snacks market is now worth £200m and is growing at 6.1% year-on-year. Mini Babybel claims to be the number one cheese snacks brand accounting for 75% of all mini cheese portions sold. The range is being boosted with the launch of an Emmental variety plus there’s a £3m advertising spend during 2007.