LAS VEGAS – According to the 2017 NACS State of the Industry Report, foodservice accounts for almost 34% of gross domestic product in the convenience store industry. Competitive advantage exists in recognizing and capitalizing on food trends to move business forward. Attendees at this week’s NACS Show session “Foodservice: Now, New, Next” had a front-row seat to current and coming trends across the category.
Over the last few decades, the consumer health and wellness outlook has progressed from managing weight with low-fat, low-carb and low-calorie options to feeling good about food by selecting local, natural and organic products. Most recently, consumers are taking a functional approach by focusing on food groups, such as proteins, antioxidants and superfoods.
“People are looking at what food can do for them to perform better, stay awake, get smarter and so on,” said session moderator Mark DiDomenico, director of client solutions at Datassential.
Adding ingredients such as chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and turmeric across multiple applications is both easy and effective. Another food trend on the rise is meat and protein substitutes. C-store vendors currently capitalizing on this alternative appetite include Sonic’s Signature Slinger, the ImpossibleTM Burger and Burger King’s MorningStar Veggie Burger.
Session speaker Steven Turner, director of food programs and offers at RaceTrac Petroleum Inc., supports implementing minor ingredient and menu changes to help offset cost, which can be a challenge for many c-stores. Good examples include cauliflower pizza crust and other items and flavors that are gaining popularity, such as ahi tuna or brisket on salads and sandwiches, and pork belly and soppressata on pizza.
“Trends and flavors are exciting but intimidating for some [customers],” said DiDomenico. “Operators are successful when they practice safe experimentation. You have to make it accessible without losing your customers.”
Safe experimentation can be successful with a little bit of wordplay and ingenuity. People may not buy a banh mi if they don’t know what it is, but they will purchase a “Saigon chicken” sandwich. RaceTrac renamed its Tropical Paradise smoothie to Tropical Mango to better identify its ingredients, and it went from the lowest-performing flavor to the second-best-performing flavor overnight, Turner said.
“You have to give customers something they can connect with to want to try it,” he said.
DiDomenico also touched on the rising trend of at-home eating and food delivery, which will continue to expand and evolve with technology.
Turner’s closing advice was matter-of-fact: “Don’t wait for the right or safe time. Try it now and adapt. If you don’t try it, then you will get 0% of the market share. [The scenario] is not that people will order from RaceTrac online or come to the store, it’s that people will order from RaceTrac online, or they’ll order from somewhere else online.”