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C-Store Food Service Can Be Profitable With Commitment And Patience

Steve Ryan, far left, executive director of the New England Convenience Store Association, welcomes the food service panel, which included Joe Hamza of Tedeschi Food Shops, Adam Kramer of J. Polep Distribution Services, Michael Piscione, director of food service at Garber Bros., Jeff Perkins of Perkins Consulting and Richard Hunt, director of food service at Pine State Trading Co.
Steve Ryan, far left, executive director of the New England Convenience Store Association, welcomes the food service panel, which included Joe Hamza of Tedeschi Food Shops, Adam Kramer of J. Polep Distribution Services, Michael Piscione, director of food service at Garber Bros., Jeff Perkins of Perkins Consulting and Richard Hunt, director of food service at Pine State Trading Co.

No doubt, food service programs can be profitable for convenience stores, but operators can’t always expect instant success; rather, expect a trial-and-error process, practice patience, make a company commitment and realize that there will be waste at the beginning of the program.

Those messages were conveyed to a room filled with convenience store representatives who attended a free seminar just prior to the start of the New England Convenience Store Association (NECSA) trade show, held March 18 at the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Joe Hamza, VP of sales and marketing at Tedeschi Food Shops, moderated a food service panel with many food service directors of major New England c-store distributors participating in the panel. Participants included Adam Kramer, food service director at J. Polep Distribution Services; Richard Hunt, food service director at Pine State Trading Co.; Jeff Perkins of Perkins Consulting; and Michael Piscione, food service director at Garber Bros.

Hamza, who delivered some opening remarks, said success does not come by simply adding coffee or sandwiches to offerings.

“It takes a corporate culture dedicated to the success of food service,” he said.

Perkins said the c-store industry is growing, and there is a huge opportunity for food service. Kramer noted that consumers are expecting quality, fresh food that is consistent. Piscione said he believes shoppers are looking for localized tastes.

“One store fits all does not exist,” he said. “People are looking for different, fresh varieties.”
Hunt pointed out that food service at convenience stores has come from “eating at a gas station to one where we are restaurants with gas pumps.”

In response to the question of what mistakes operators make, Kramer said it not just about quality food but also a company commitment to the entire program.

“That could mean rotating the product, educating employees on the roller grill. Commitment to the category is not just selling,” he said.

Many of the panelists agreed that small operators can compete but it takes the right location, the right offering and the right brand and, as Perkins noted, “what the customer needs and what’s next door.”
When starting a food service program, Hamza said operators should expect a double-digit amount of waste but “as you gain experience this will come down.”

Twelve to 15 percent was mentioned as realistic percentage of waste. Another big expense for a food service program is labor expenses, which panelists pointed to between 20 to 25 percent.

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