When it comes to new opportunities for growth, bakers and snack producers are turning to gas stations and convenience stores, two channels now experiencing a huge expansion in food service offerings. In fact, some progressive c-stores like Sheetz, based at Altoona, Pa., with 475 locations across six states and sales of $5.23 billion, consider quick-service restaurants as their main competitors for breakfast sandwiches, luncheon sandwiches, pizza and more premium items for the roller grill, noted Louie Sheetz, retired vice-president of sales and marketing, during a retail panel at the Snack Food Association’s Executive Leadership Forum late last month.
In fact, food service selections and “fresh snacks” — Mr. Sheetz defines sandwiches as a snack, a.k.a. an “immediate consumption food” — are perhaps the fastest and most profitable departments for many chains. Individually wrapped muffins and single-sliced loaf cakes — shipped frozen and slacked out at store level — are hot sellers, especially if they’re positioned as an accompaniment to the ever-expanding array of premium coffee choices as c-stores try to compete with the Starbucks and McDonald’s of the world.
“We make it very easy for people to stop and get their breakfast,” Mr. Sheetz said.
Made-to-order deli sandwiches, which carry a nice-sized margin, are becoming more common, despite the labor involved. Mr. Sheetz noted the company’s new stores — those built within the last five years — even allot 1,500 square feet for dining. The company recently renamed itself Sheetz Convenience Restaurants.Say goodbye to the tired, old gas station with two bays for lube jobs and car repairs. As inter-day meals and other forms of snacking become more prevalent, watch for more bakers and snack producers to tap into the c-store as their new growth vehicle.