7-Eleven aims to segue from Slurpees to salads

10/14/2004 12:00:00 AM
Doug Ohlemeier

(Oct. 14) The country’s largest convenience store chain’s move to offer more fresh foods shows the increasing prominence fresh fruits and vegetables are playing at convenience stores.

Dallas-based 7-Eleven Stores Inc. has been testing a more upscale format at a couple of dozen of its stores in Austin.

The new stores, according to a CNN/Money report, are selling more fresh apples, oranges, bananas, salads and fresh grilled sandwiches.

The chain’s chief executive officer, Jim Keyes, is steering the company more on a fresh food strategy, industry analysts say.

“There’s a trend towards more fresh food and more upscale foods in the C-stores,” said Jeff Lenard, director of communications for the National Association of Convenience Stores, Alexandria, Va.

“Customer demand and particularly not just customers saying they want fresh foods but saying they want these fresh foods at these C-stores are what is driving this trend,” he said.

Many of the 130,659 U.S. convenience stores that were already bringing in fresh produce for the sandwiches the stores were assembling saw the opportunity to offer more fresh produce items, Lenard said.

“It makes sense from a distribution standpoint,” he said. “Many of the stores were already in the fresh food business. It’s an expansion of what they’re already doing. They need the products to meet the demand. The time is right for both of those.”

’GOURMET TO GO’

Charlottesville, Va.-based Tiger Fuel Co. this year rolled out a “gourmet to go” concept at half of its 15 convenience stores.

The product line — which includes spinach, Greek, cobb, tossed and chef salads, wraps and other made to order sandwiches — attempts to hit the middle price point, a market that Tiger Fuel believes is underserved, said marketing director Stuart Lowry.

“It’s for the worker on the go that doesn’t want to get a hot dog but doesn’t have time to visit one of our delicatessens,” he said.

“They want a healthier item but are in a hurry.”

Supermarket and convenience store consultant Gene Gerke, president of Gerke & Associates Inc., Columbia, Mo., said many convenience store operators are looking to provide more fresh and health-oriented food.

“You’re seeing more healthy alternatives being offered,” he said.

ABOUT-FACE

The transformation to fresher and healthier foods is an interesting about-face for the convenience industry, Gerke said.

“They’ve been known for years as being in the sin business,” he said. “They sold alcohol, nicotine, sugar and fat. Now they’re seeing a lot of the growth opportunities on the healthier side of things.”

Analysts say 7-Eleven’s transition to fresher foods is in its early stages and it may be a couple of years before you can choose from a full line of fresh fruit, salads or gourmet sandwiches from that store near you.

7-Eleven’s 5,700 stores account for 5% of the U.S. convenience market, Lenard said.

Perishable grocery sales at convenience stores increased 9.7% from 2002’s $339 million to 2003’s $372 million, according to the convenience store association.



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