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Small Details Matter in Foodservice

September 22, 2017

It’s not easy to decide if today’s leading convenience stores are gas stations with restaurants, or restaurants that sell gas.

Large retail brands like Sheetz, GetGo, and Rutter’s have expansive, made-to-order menus; independent stores are attracting coverage for high-quality foodservice in newspapers around the United States; brands like Kum & Go have better indoor and outdoor seating than many coffee shops; and customers frequently seek out branded foodservice programs like Krispy Krunchy Chicken—which Thrillist recently called the best fried chicken “you probably haven’t heard of.”

Foodservice matters. According to data released in April at the NACS State of the Industry Summit, foodservice accounted for 21.7% of in-store sales in 2016 and 35.2% of gross profit dollars. But since many stores compete with local restaurants, it’s important to provide the right customer experience and not neglect the small details.

Having visited and eaten at convenience stores across the United States, here are four issues worth paying attention to.

1. Clean the Tables
Dirty tables can easily lower the reputations of restaurants, and convenience stores are no different. I’ve visited many otherwise fantastic stores only to discover tables that are repeatedly covered in crumbs, grease marks, or trash—situations that could have been fixed with 15 seconds and a bottle of sanitizing spray. This is unfortunate because it detracts from an experience that may otherwise be fantastic.

Many gas stations already suffer from a “fuel penalty”—the perception that their food is of a lower quality due to the presence of fuel pumps—and they don’t have the luxury of getting to the tables “when we have time.” Cleanliness is a frequent source of negative reviews on GasBuddy, and a reputation for dirty tables can easily undermine higher-level planning, promotions, and marketing efforts.

The good news is that consumers are also willing to share their positive experiences online: “This was my first time visiting this store, and I was very pleased,” wrote a GasBuddy user in a recent review. “It was very clean, and the service was outstanding.”

2. Facilitate and Encourage Customization
Many customers—especially millennials—value customization and control. They seek to define their own retail experience rather than be told what it is.

Some customers will want extra cheese, no onions, spinach instead of lettuce, or a different type of sauce. Many leading brands already use touchscreen-based menus that can simplify the process. At Sheetz, customers can build their own creations if the existing options don’t match their preferences; and at QuikTrip, nearly every item is customizable.

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Store Employees Valuable to Shopping Experience

September 20, 2017

ChargeItSpot study shows store associates matter to customers.

Automation may be threatening to change the face of the shopping experience, but consumers still value interactions with store associates.

ChargeItSpot, a provider of cell phone charging stations for major retailers, has revealed the results of its “Store Associate Report” study, which asked consumers their thoughts and feelings on the value of store associates at retail locations. ChargeItSpot collected responses from over 600 shoppers at malls across the country, using its integrated survey capability, QuickPoll.

The study revealed that more than 60% of shoppers say store employee presence is extremely important to their retail experience. Some 63% of all shoppers see store associates as extremely important, with an additional 28% saying that store associates are somewhat important. Only a combined 9% deemed associates as unimportant to their shopping experience. Interestingly, supposedly tech-savvy Millennials placed the highest value on store associates, while baby boomers were the most comfortable with doing away with that human interaction.

“Retailers strive to deliver rewarding experiences to shoppers every time they enter a store,” said Douglas Baldasare, CEO and founder of ChargeItSpot. “Store associates represent the brand and are there to help shoppers with their needs. Our survey found that even young shoppers see the added value of having a human interaction when they enter a store.”

Check out the chart below for a full breakdown – by age – indicating shoppers’ sentiments on the overall importance of store employee presence during their shopping experience.

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Foodservice Marketing Still Crucial

September 18, 2017

Rolling out a foodservice program can require a lot of time, effort and, in many cases, expense. But the buck doesn’t stop there. Retailers have to be willing to commit their resources to getting the public to equate their brand with quality.

It takes four customer interactions to change trial into habit, according to Scott Zaremba, president of Lawrence, Kan.-based Zarco USA convenience stores.

“If we can get consumers to come into our stores four times, we’re pretty confident they’ll remain customers,” Zaremba said.

For many customers, their first encounter with Zarco USA and Sandbar Subs (the company’s proprietary foodservice offering) is through a coupon. Zaremba distributes coupons heavily at local events.

“It can’t be a 50-cents-off coupon; it must have true merit, like maybe a free lunch, to result in action,” said Zaremba. “Those coupons are redeemed 20-25% of the time.”

Community events are Zaremba’s preferred place to distribute coupons because “people who are loyal to an organization or event usually also demonstrate that loyalty in other areas of their lives.” He also reaches out to local businesses by sending sandwiches with coupons attached.

INCREASING INCENTIVES
New York-based foodservice restaurant, retail and hospitality consultant Arlene Spiegel agrees that coupons (“either old-fashioned printed ones or online through an app”) can be effective incentives.

She added that when distributing coupons in-store, their value as a marketing tool can be increased when coupled with food sampling at the point of sale.

Another way to use coupons in-store to encourage return visits is to offer a bounce-back deal. For example, breakfast customers can receive a coupon for a lunch item or vice versa.

Last March, Cubby’s Convenience Stores, with 36 locations in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota, offered a bounce-back coupon to promote sales for its signature Junction Burger. The coupon allowed customers who bought one of the burgers to get another for half price when they returned for another visit. De Lone Wilson, the company’s president, declared the promotion a success and said he would repeat it in the future.

Wilson has also done direct mail couponing with foodservice partner Godfather’s Pizza, using Godfather’s mailing list, with good results.

Ryan Krebs, director of food services for Rutter’s Farm Stores, which has 68 locations in Pennsylvania, distributes high value coupons via direct mail to areas within a one mile radius of new stores leading up to their opening. The coupons may offer a buy one get one for burgers or $2 off of a pizza.

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The Future of Drive Thru: Overcoming Choke Points

September 15, 2017

Three things slowing down the drive-thru lane, and how quick serves can use technology to overcome them.

The 2016 QSR Drive-Thru Study revealed that a whopping 60–70 percent of the revenue in the quick-service business comes from drive-thru sales. According to The NPD Group, drive-thru sales account for 57 percent of business at burger restaurants, 40 percent at Mexican-themed, and 38 percent at restaurants that serve chicken. In 2016, McDonald’s said approximately 70 percent of its U.S. sales come from drive-thru windows.

Americans make 12.4 billion trips to the drive-thru every year, so meals on-the-go are here to stay.

The drive-thru flow process, in general, goes like this: a consumer arrives at the drive thru, orders their food, receives their order, pays, and drives away. By breaking down these activities into components, technology can be applied to increase speed and efficiency.

Technology can impact these areas in the drive-thru process:

  • Moving customers through the line
  • Food and product preparation speed
  • Accuracy in taking orders
  • Order entry to the restaurant’s kitchen
  • Payment

The key to increasing drive-thru sales is identifying the key choke-points that slow down the order process and finding solutions that alleviate these issues.

Choke-point No. 1: Traffic flow

This means fixing traffic in the entire restaurant environment, not just the parking lot. Imagine a world where once a customer opts-in, their vehicle can be pinpointed at any time, like the geo-tracking on a smartphone. Dual authentication can confirm customer identity and speed up traffic through the line. For example, let’s say Matt is driving Mary’s car. Matt’s phone will offer the secondary authentication, which is more specific and can provide geo or micro location. As soon as Matt pulls into the drive thru, the restaurant can determine Matt is the customer with a high degree of accuracy.

From that identification, a customer profile can be activated. Retailers can build the profile by reviewing prior orders from the customer and starting an algorithm for their menu production requirements. That data is compiled to generate menu analytics; with that analysis output is sent to the kitchen to automatically drop protein—a hamburger patty or chicken cutlet—onto the grill. If you speed up the line, you speed up the kitchen, in turn speeding up throughput, which increases sales.

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Path Of Progress: Chris Ivanoff

September 14, 2017

Chris started in Utility out of RDC six years ago. He transitioned to LDC in 2014 and recently moved into the Quality Assurance Coordinator role. As an employee who has worked at both distribution centers, Chris had some great thoughts on what it takes to get your career started at Harbor.

Q:What roles have you held at Harbor?

C: I was hired to clean totes and break down freight (before we had lumpers) from there I did Utility (RDC), Stock (RDC), Inventory Control (RDC), Order Selector (LDC), Stocker (LDC), Driver Assistant (LDC), Inventory Control/QC (LDC), Quality Assurance Coordinator (present).

 

Q:How did you make the transition from where you started to where you are now?

C: I always give credit to the Inventory Control team in both warehouses for my growth. In that position I was relied on and gained a tremendous amount of knowledge about our operations.

 

Q: How long have you been with Harbor?

C: 6 years

 

Q: Any advice for advancing your career at Harbor?

C: Try to be the best you can be at your current position. I used to make my personal goal the President’s award every year. At the same time also being as helpful towards other positions that would help gain knowledge.

 

Q: As a long standing employee, what do you think is the most important quality to have to get your career started at Harbor?

C: Attention to detail and reliability.

Built to Compete

September 11, 2017

More convenience retailers are becoming foodservice destinations rather than just pit stops. Moreover, savvy c-stores are learning that as they refine their fresh food businesses, adding the right equipment is an essential part of the equation.

By David Bennett, Senior Editor

In this new foodservice era, c-stores—both marquee chains as well as smaller operators—are committing to equipping their kitchens with the final pieces for continued success.

Ashleigh Michaels, RaceTrac’s corporate executive research and development (R&D) chef, said staying current with both consumer tastes and the equipment market has been an important component to shaping the chain’s foodservice program, which has evolved into a robust platform, comprising a stronger deli program, customizable sandwiches, pizzas and specialty beverages that include everything from milkshakes made with real, hand-scooped ice cream to espresso-based lattes, mochas and cappuccinos.

“Staying on top of both technological trends and food and flavor trends is very important for us in this industry. How we capitalize on trends may vary depending on the category and RaceTrac’s need from that particular piece of equipment.”
RaceTrac operates more than 700 stores in 12 states, some under its RaceWay dealer brand.

COOKING TO THE FUTURE
Like any category, the availability of equipment on the market is as diverse as c-store foodservice strategies: countertop ovens, air jet ovens, rack ovens and pizza ovens—including models that rotate to ensure even baking of the whole pie.
“As our store count continues to grow, being able to connect to our equipment remotely is becoming more and more important,” Michaels said. “This allows our maintenance teams to run error reports and guarantee they have the proper parts when they arrive at the store for a repair. It also allows us to update menu offers, settings and/or cook times for a quarterly LTO (limited time offer).”

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Flying Off the Shelf

September 8, 2017

For years, foodservice stakeholders have urged Americans to eat more chicken. More and more, convenience store patrons appear to be listening.

By Brad Perkins, Contributing Editor

Whereas a generation ago, per person consumption of beef outpaced chicken 63 pounds to 28, Americans have been consuming, per capita, more chicken than beef every year since 1992.

The National Chicken Council (NCC), which keeps track of the U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics in this area, attributes several reasons to chicken’s growth in popularity.

“It’s a combination of taste, nutritional value, versatility and price,” said Tom Super, senior vice president of communications at the NCC. “We ask folks all the time, ‘What are the top factors when purchasing chicken?’ Those usually rise to the top.”

Health. Taste. Versatility. It seems like a recipe for success. And it has been. Super attributes the increase in popularity to the availability of many different types of chicken preparations and products, multiple dayparts, preparations and sizes of chicken entrees, snacks and sides. But also cost.

“Chicken is relatively inexpensive and is more affordable compared to some proteins,” said Super. “There are a lot of fully-prepared products available and expanding. Hot prepared foods as well, whether it’s classic old chicken sandwich or fried chicken—those are hot, filling, affordable meals.”

MEETING DEMAND
Indeed, the variety of options is what has people coming back to chicken.

“The demand is there,” Super said. “We’re increasing supply a little bit, but seeing consumer demand to be high and in terms of consumption, we’ll be at a record per capita in the U.S.—92 pounds per person [in 2018].”

As people desire healthy food that is also high quality, fast and inexpensive, they have frequently found chicken as a favorite. And trends show that will continue.

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Path Of Progress: Riley Harrison

September 6, 2017

Riley started at Harbor three and a half years ago in the Warehouse as an Order Selector. Riley recently transitioned over to the Store Solutions Team in June of this year. As an employee who has worked in multiple roles, Riley had some great thoughts on what it’s like to work at Harbor.

Q: What roles have you held at Harbor?

R: I started in the Warehouse as an Order Selector. I am currently a Store Solutions Representative.

 

Q: How did you make the transition from where you started to where you are now?

R: Soon after I was hired, I realized I wanted to continue my education, and turn my job at Harbor into a career. Through hard work and three years in the Warehouse, the opportunity presented itself to apply for my current role as a Store Solutions Rep. My previous retail experience combined with my experience with Harbor values and products landed me my new position.

 

Q: How long have you been with Harbor?

R: I have been apart of the Harbor family for three and a half years.

 

Q: Any advice for advancing your career at Harbor?

R: Always strive to better yourself in your current role. Harbor is always trying to promote from within. Hard work and dedication is always recognized.

 

Q: As a long standing employee, what do you think is the most important quality to have to get your career started at Harbor?

R: I believe the most important quality to have is dedication. Being dedicated not only opens opportunities for yourself to grow within the company, it also ensures that we, as a team at Harbor, are doing our very best to serve others and our customers.

Packaged Beverage Sales Flow

September 1, 2017

As traditional carbonated soft drink sales continue to lag, the convenience store channel is proving a hot bed for new beverage options sought by younger consumers, including healthier craft sodas and cold brew coffee.

By David Bennett, Senior Editor

Industry experts say Millennials are leading the escape from mass produced, over-processed and over-packaged foods with a demand for real, healthier ingredients. The same can be said for U.S. packaged beverages, according to Gary Hemphill, managing director of research for Beverage Marketing Corp. (BMC), who explains the marketplace is being reshaped by consumer demand for variety and healthier refreshment. Due to this, retailers are likely to continue to see more category and product innovation.

“It is fair to say that Millennials are leading the charge toward healthier refreshment beverages with products that are more natural and simple with a straight-forward list of ingredients,” said Hemphill.

If that push from younger U.S. beverage consumers is growing, it’s reflective in the mixed sets and product lines displayed in c-store cold vault spaces throughout the country.

The packaged beverage category is a perennial performer in terms of positive gross profit dollar growth. In 2016, packaged beverages (non-alcohol) accounted for 18.5% of gross profit dollars. Within the category, enhanced water (12.3% increase in sales), sports drinks (4.5%) and bottled water (3.9%) led sales growth from the cooler, according to data from the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS).

For the first time in 2016, bottled waters surpassed carbonated soft drinks to become the No. 1 beverage by volume. The BMC projects sparkling water sales will increase more than 20% in 2017.

DRINK REVOLUTION
As U.S. consumers shun traditional carbonated soft drinks (CSD) in an effort to live healthier lives, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and other drink manufacturers are pushing to pad their product portfolios with beverages with less sugar and what are considered “better-for-you” ingredients.

For instance, Monster Mutant ‘super soda’ is an extension of a strategic partnership between Monster and Coke. Coke in 2015 acquired a minority stake in Monster and became “preferred global distribution partner” for Monster energy drinks. However, Mutant isn’t marketed as an energy offering, but is being peddled as a CSD alternative.

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Meet Tony!

August 30, 2017

Tell us a little about yourself and your background.

I am 25 years young, athletic, and I am Chinese and Black.

 

How long have you worked at Harbor Wholesale Foods?

2 years

 

What is your current role in the Warehouse, and what made you want to work as that role?

I am an Order Selector. I wanted to work in this role because of the growth within the company.

 

What areas do you cover?

Cases

 

What does a day at work look like for you?

I am very busy. I get right into it and work hard.

 

What is your favorite thing about your job?

My coworkers.

 

If you were to use one word to describe Harbor, what would it be?

Flexibility

 

What do you like to do in your free time outside of work?

I like to lift heavy things and hang out with my friends.

 

If you were a snack item, what snack item would you be?

BBQ Lays

 

What is one interesting fact about you?

I really enjoy my job.