Salads and fresh-cut fruit are probably not the first products a consumer associates with a stop at a convenience store. But some offer them.
“It’s starting to increase in convenience stores,” said Noel Brigido, vice president of operations for Canadian processor Freshline Foods, Mississauga, Ontario.
“Apples have an extended shelf life and work well there.
“But I think it’s still going to take a while for the consumer to realize, ‘Hey, I’m going to get gas, a pack of smokes and my fruit at the same time.’ The North American market has a lot of first- and second-generation immigrants who are still not acclimatized to value-added.”
Regional convenience chains such as Sheetz, Wawa and Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes all offer value-added or fresh-cut produce items.
Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes markets produce — fresh-cut and whole commodity — effectively, said Jeff Lenard, vice president for industry advocacy with the Alexandria, Va.-based National Association of Convenience Stores.
Lenard’s travels this past year took him to a Nice N Easy in Brewerton, N.Y.
“Most convenience stores are configured for righties, so as you walk in you immediately turn to the right,” Lenard said.
“If you do that in this store, the first thing you hit is a solid wall of beautiful produce. They have a produce manager and some of the best looking produce I’ve seen.”
There’s no industrywide data on fresh produce sales in convenience stores, but examples like Nice N Easy suggest possibilities for marketers in this segment.
“They make money at it, but more importantly it sends a real big message to customers, particularly women, that they’re serious about fresh and you’ll see it in the rest of the store,” Lenard said. “It’s not just a profit driver, but a perception changer.”
Lenard sees fresh-cut as one answer to the question of what stores can do to expand their grab-and-go selections.
“As great as sandwiches are, people get tired of them,” he said.
“Maybe as the week goes on you want something fresh-cut, a salad or something. Done well, it can help your grab-and-go sandwich sales. The trend toward fresh or fresh-cut is something that will continue to grow.”
The big challenge for operators, though, is not to get ahead of demand.
“You need to have a produce mindset, and you can’t sell subpar product,” Lenard said.
“You have to be able to throw it out if it’s past its use. That’s a challenge for some retailers who are under the old model of stock it, sell it, replace it.”
Other examples of nontraditional retailing of produce are out there.
“Dollar stores in some areas of the country are bringing in potatoes,” said Kevin Stanger, senior vice president of marketing for Wada Farms, Idaho Falls, Idaho.