Can an Organic Fast-Food Restaurant Play the Value Game?

By Vladik Rikhter

organix.pngDid you notice that QSR magazine upped their 9 fast-food trends for 2016 to 12 trends for 2017? They kept the descriptions more succinct and business-focused rather than about the food itself. I have a theory for why this is… because today’s customers are all over the place!  Wouldn’t the foodservice industry be much simpler if everyone just wanted a salad for lunch and a craft pizza by night? (Answer: Yes it would be, but it would also be completely boring!)


We’re living in an age of fast-food paradoxes. Let’s face it: What tastes good isn’t always good for you. What’s good for you can’t always be delivered quickly and with real ingredients.

Dashboard dining is not exactly synonymous with mindful eating…. until now. Finally! Someone brave enough to try bridging all these gaps!

Meet the Brittsans, a couple who dared to open Nic’S Organic Fast Food: the nation’s first certified-organic fast-food restaurant with a drive-thru (two trends in one description)! Like many good food ideas, it all started with a pregnant woman who craved a burger. The Brittsans, who met while enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu, know fine dining, but they’re just like the rest of us—sometimes you have a hankering. It’s why their concept features a menu of burgers, fried and grilled chicken, AND salads. Breakfast (yet another trend) will also be served and will feature freshly squeezed juices and organic coffee.


“The organic lifestyle doesn’t mean you’re eating any healthier in terms of the food,” CEO Benjamin Brittsan told Chicago Eater. “What you’re benefitting from is from what’s not in the food.” (Do you feel the sun’s warmth? I believe the clouds just parted.)


This makes so much sense for describing what appeals to today’s consumers who actually don’t know what they want on any given day—they want it all and NOW! At Nic’s, they can order a healthy or indulgent meal without feeling bad about it either way. And an indulgent meal is less guilt-inducing when we know the ingredients are free of hormones and chemicals, and that the meat was sourced from a farm that uses ethical practices.


Brittsan is confident in his concept and bold enough to forecast opening 50 locations in the next three years. In fact, he wants to take his concept west from Chicagoland to California, right to the doorstep of competitors like The Organic Coup, which is opening its eighth location after launching in late 2015. The Organic Coup was billed as the country’s first USDA-certified organic fast-food restaurant. That’s a distinction from Nic’s, which is certified organic by Quality Assurance International, but it’s an organic certification nevertheless.

The Takeaway

New concepts like Nic’s and The Organic Coup represent an exciting opportunity for foodpreneurs with big dreams. It also presents an urgency for major fast-food industry players with menus that can’t be revolutionized to this extent. What is a red-headed gal, a stately colonel, and the Golden Arches to do?


The answer is to double-down on operational efficiency. The last listed trend in QSR’s article is “fast casual embraces value.” I think they saved the most important trend for last! As one industry expert put it, quick-service in infringing on fast-casual’s space, so fast-casual will have to compete on value. This is yet another paradox—organic, fresh ingredients usually carry a premium that’s passed onto the customer. Nic’s menu isn’t available, but we know The Organic Coup Signature Sandwich is $10. Fast-food will offer you a premium, non-organic version at half the price or less.


So will these newer fast-food restaurants flourish or have the growing pains of expanding businesses finding their way?

Will traditional fast-food players continue to tweak their menus or capitalize by offering more immediately recognized value?

We’re staying tuned to see how this one plays out!

Omnichannel is Here to Stay: 3 Ways Conventional Retailers Can Adapt

By Joe Skupinsky

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Here’s a fact: Not all retailers Zenput works with are equipped to offer the online shopping experience... yet—but they also don’t have to right now.

Plenty of retailers we work with have core businesses that rely on foot traffic and/or drive-thru operations. Your customers may be just “catching up” to the technology of ordering groceries or food delivery online or through an app. But in the convenience industry, especially, as long as people have to physically stop to fill up a tank, there will be an opportunity for in-store traffic.  

So how common is omnichannel retail? It appears to be fundamentally changing the way customers approach major retail channels, and it’s starting to change retailers’ approach to how they serve customers.

Of course, we also know that in December, Amazon opened a store for employees in its hometown of Seattle that has no checkout line. Just scan in with the new Amazon Go app and the store’s computer vision and technologies tracks the items you’ve purchased. It’s pretty cool, but also a little creepy at the same time!

As referenced in this CNN Money report, the political climate may not be ready for that level of automation in the workforce. Still, the point must not be lost: brick-and-mortar retailers are incorporating more aspects of the streamlined, fast, and convenient digital experience. Retailers of consumer products must start turning their attention to digital outreach and learn how to accommodate customers who shop in a world of instant gratification.

How Retailers Can Adapt in the Short-Term

We tend to focus so much on what a giant like Amazon is doing, but just as important is the why. Why is Amazon looking at brick-and-mortar grocery stores and bookstores? Because the stores, which are experimental right now, partly serve as an advertisement for Amazon’s digital products! In this way, Amazon embodies the omnichannel approach of integrating a digital and physical shopping experience. It’s lofty “stuff” of the future, but not entirely relevant to Zenput’s customers who are just looking for ways to be more efficient and live in “the now.”

So while it’s crucial that retailers recognize the opportunities presented by digital integration, it’s equally as important that they recognize their strengths outside of the digital world. Here are 3 ways retailers can begin to adapt to the omnichannel mindset without losing sight of who they are and how they can best serve their core customers:

  1.  Personalize – Automation streamlines and makes things similar. It can also potentially remove the fun, memorable parts of shopping. I wouldn’t be able to tell you if I enjoyed scanning my grocery items at Store A over Store B. But if Store B recognized my loyalty and gave me something for it, I’m more apt to return. This is a reason why loyalty and other rewards programs are becoming increasingly important, and why well-trained staff and customer service will continue to be paramount.

  2. Curate — Very much tied to personalization, curating is more than simply knowing what customers want; it’s about quality. Don’t be just good at where you excel—be GREAT! For example, you can make certain products or foodservice items your specialty. The preparation, selection and placement of products will be crucial, as customers return for consistency and an easily navigable environment. Convenience stores already have an advantage in offering a smaller footprint store, so they should take advantage by carefully considering product placement.

Remember: Unique retail experiences drive in-person visits and thankfully, it doesn’t require a song and a dance—the basics done right will do just fine!

  1. Start thinking mobile – From social engagement to rewards programs, your customers are on their phones—and you need to be there, too! Aside from your customers, who else is on their phones constantly (at least when they have a break)? Your employees—and probably you, too! The culture towards mobile technology is slowly changing from a nuisance you lock in a break room or an office drawer to a practical tool that can be utilized appropriately during the workday.

So let’s stop cursing the fact that everyone has a computer in their pocket and embrace it instead!

What can you learn with the right mobile apps and real-time insights?

…to be discussed next time!

5 Musts for Every Restaurant Inspection

By David Mostovoy

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When a city’s health department decides to inspect restaurants, they can cover a tremendous amount of ground in what seems like a relatively short amount of time. For example, the Philadelphia Department of Health inspected nearly 500 restaurants, delis and other eateries between Nov. 9 and Nov. 21. Good news for local restaurants: they only found a few serious offenders.

In today’s click-bait world, restaurant health inspection stories seem to be on the rise. The Business Journal publications are especially in tune with the latest reports in various municipalities across the U.S. Some of these journals make it a point to publish the findings as they’re reported. Years ago, if a restaurant was cited for an offense, it could make the paper, but then eventually it would go away. The restaurant would fix the problem, reopen if it had closed, and life would go on. In today’s news environment, bad publicity has a permanent home that’s just a quick search and a click away. It’s imperative for restaurants to not wind up on the “naughty” list anywhere because it can do irreparable damage to their brand.

Based on our experience working with restaurant operators, these are the top 5 things to audit weekly in a restaurant:

  1. Food Safety/Cleanliness – Well, this may get a “duh” response since it’s a restaurant, but you’d be surprised with what turns up in some reports, especially when it comes to food that isn’t stored at correct temperatures. This is one of the most egregious offenses because it’s so simple to avoid, yet so costly to all involved parties if not appropriately addressed. It all comes down to working thermometers (for food storage and cooking of meats), adherence to food preparation guidelines, and adherence to proper cleaning procedures.

 P.S. If the food thermometer issue is a sticking point, you can use the BluTherm food thermometer to digitally record readings, which makes auditing process easier.

  1. Make sure employees are adhering to rules – Because that’s the reality: there are rules that are more than guidelines or suggestions. You may have heard this past week that Hawaii may become the next state (among just a handful) to require food handler certification at either a state or county level. If you are in one of those states, your restaurant audit needs to include employee records. Other routine tasks, that include cleaning and inventory management, must also be accounted for on a regular basis.

  2. Ability to report to management. How many times do you mean to send that email or follow up by phone, but something comes up and suddenly you’re pulled away from the task at hand? It happens to all of us. But not reporting issues as they arise in restaurants is where it can get dangerous or, at the very least, negligent. “If you see something, say something” needs to apply to restaurant operations and managers need real-time tools to confidently report any issues they encounter during audits.

  3. Restaurant condition – To the point of reporting any issues, part of the restaurant audit needs to address the condition of the facility. “Standing water” can appear as a note on a health inspector’s record because it can lead to mold, mildew and invite pests. Routinely check for leaks on the interior/exterior walls, ceilings and other permanent fixtures. Also be sure to check the lighting and utilities like gas and water.

  4. Ensure marketing materials are in compliance – Restaurant audits aren’t just about the nuts and bolts of the facility. Have the menus been updated to reflect the latest items? Is there signage in the store reminding customers of the latest promotion? Are prices accurate? The restaurant audit is the perfect opportunity to check these finer details, as they reflect on your brand.

Zenput is the mobile, cloud-based solution that helps restaurant operators gain location-by-location insight on key metrics and maintain accountability across the organization. Learn more about Zenput’s functionality for restaurant operators by clicking here. 

Topics: Franchise, Restaurants

Contactless Payments: A Passing Fad or Slow Adoption?

By David Mostovoy

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Just a couple of years ago, it seemed like contactless payments—Apple Pay, Android Pay and Google Wallet—were the way of the future. These mobile payment systems rely on near-field communication (NFC) technology. Essentially, holding up your smartphone at the point-of-sale terminal digitizes and replaces the credit-debit card chip and PIN, or the (now outdated thanks to EMV) magnetic-stripe transaction at point-of-sale terminals. Just tap and go, and you’re on your way. Seems easy, right?

So why hasn’t this technology gained more traction? Computerworld recently interviewed industry analysts and asked them that very same question. Nitish Patel of Strategy Analytics narrowed it down to two reasons: 1. Conventional payments are not broken. 2. Consumers aren’t clear on the benefits of switching to mobile payments. Another analyst, Jordan McKee of 451 Research, put it even simpler: Mobile wallets haven’t yet proven they are measurably better than incumbent payment mechanisms, “which generally work quite well,” he added.

Indeed, getting the average U.S. consumer to adopt contactless payment technology may be like teaching an old dog new tricks. I have to admit, recent retailer hacks and ongoing credit/debit card fraud makes me think twice about using my card at certain locations like gas stations. But just because a technology is slow to take off doesn’t mean that it can’t be more widely accepted later. Case in point: the personal computer, which took decades to evolve and gain traction. Analyst Bryan Yeager of eMarketer told Computerworld that he believes we’re still in the early-adopter phase, while yet another analyst believes it will take another three years before NFC payment terminals are widely available in the U.S. Not surprisingly, the biggest adopters of mobile wallets are under the age of 35, according to a study by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Three key facts about mobile payment technology from the Computerworld report:

  1. Not every store accepts mobile wallets.

  2. Coffee chain competitors Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, as well as big-box retailer Walmart, are successfully using QR codes via smartphones for transactions.

  3. NFC payments have yet to integrate with loyalty/rewards programs in a way that incentivizes mass market adoption.

Widescale change may happen only if credit card companies and backing banks get on board because so far, mobile device providers have not yet been able to sway the market by themselves. As convenience store retailers are well aware, the current regulatory and legal environment often puts retailers at the mercy of banks.

The most convenience store retailers can do is keep an open mind and consider adopting new payment technologies. We already see some retailers, including QuikTrip, Sheetz and Buc-ee’s accepting Apple Pay, as reported by CSP. Sheetz and QuikTrip previously backed the retailer-led, mobile-payment effort from MCX, which worked in conjunction with Visa and other major credit cards. However, the MCX platform has struggled to gain traction. Retailers, unfortunately, are just along for the ride at this point.

The key takeaway from the Pew report: The biggest obstacle to mobile payment use is concern about financial security. And it’s not your aging parents or grandparents who are most concerned—Millennials led the pack at 74%!

Where Retailers Are Responsible


While retailers may be at the mercy of payments industry forces, they do have direct control over one important aspect of the point-of-sale: The security of payment terminals.

In a time of transition, when customers are increasingly concerned about adopting new technologies, make payments at your store a secure and smooth process. Security is a pillar of customer loyalty in the 21st century, and there’s simply no excuse for not regularly auditing payment terminals. If retailers regularly conduct POS audits, and are generally transparent about security policies and protocols, they will be better positioned to transition their systems—and their customers—to the next technology.

Zenput helps store-level employees ensure the functionality of payment systems and report issues to senior managers. Learn more about how Zenput helps retailers conduct their own security audits in our whitepaper, “Minimizing the Risk of ATM and Gas Pump Skimming with Security Audits." Or check out our Credit Card Reader Audit – POS Form by scheduling a demo.

Related:

ATM Skimming: An Old Battle in Need of a New Solution

Prevent C-store Robberies With Regular Security Audits/Inspections

 

Topics: payment, nfc

Using Technology to Preempt the C-store Customer’s Path to Purchase

By David Mostovoy

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It’s the age-old proposition in the convenience store industry: How do you move customers from the forecourt/gas pump area inside to the store?

There are so many factors here working in tandem. If you write a flowchart, it may look something like this:

Clean, well-lit, inviting environment for the customer to want to fill up →  well-placed and accurate promotional signage → (if available) working TVs/digital signage at the pump.There’s a similar flow inside the store:

Clean, well-lit store → well-placed, accurately priced products and promotions → adequate customer service and POS technology to complete the sale.

You begin to see that upselling to an in-store purchase basically comes down to 3 components:

  1. The manual component: a clean, well-maintained forecourt and a clean, well-stocked store
  2. The technology component: ensures vendor/retailer promotional prices are properly reflected
  3. The labor/staffing component: for exceptional customer service

The reality is that in-store sales software is just that—in-store. It can tell you how many iced teas you sold in the summer, but it’s not going to tell you if the promotional signage in the forecourt told customers they should come inside for a buy-one-get-one free deal. Software won’t tell you if your employees at the foodservice counter promoted the new food item or handled the food with the proper food storage and handling techniques.

Software doesn’t provide information on the environment—it only informs about the result.

Pre-Empting the Result

So who are the retailers that answer the age-old proposition? They’re the ones who manage to pre-empt the result by creating informed processes based on what they know works. They’ve broken the 3 key components down to task management as follows:
  1. Processes to clean the store to maintain a welcoming and safe environment.

  2. Working technology—and that doesn’t necessarily mean digital pumps. It could mean conducting a security audit of payment terminals, especially in a time of targeted criminal activity. These are the kind of safeguards that are crucial to your brand.

  3. Real-time store-level insights that could note staffing levels and any other issues that may occur. Say for a period of a month, you send a district manager to a group of stores to complete an operational audit during the peak time of the weekday. Sample questions could be:

- Are there enough attendants at the pumps?

- Are the foodservice attendants following safe food handling and preparation procedures?

- Are there at least two cashiers manning the registers?

- Are gas pump payment systems secure and showing no signs of tampering?

Using a mobile solution like Zenput, senior management can not only create the audit to ensure key tasks are completed, but they can also customize the parameters and get automatically notifiy the appropriate employees when exceptions arise. These are the actionable insights that help retailers improve their operations and as a result, their bottom lines.

Learn more about Zenput’s real-time retail execution capabilities by clicking here.

See Also:

Converting Your Forecourt into a Moneymaker

Today’s Forecourt: Opportunities to Convert Customers from the Pump

Auditing Branded Gas Station Forecourts Can Increase Supplier Payments 

Topics: C-store

It’s Time for Mobile Technology in Store Operations - here's why

By Brian Harris

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If you’re not using mobile technology in your store, you’re being beaten not just by your competitors… but by your own customers! The results of a recent Deloitte study on the digital divide show that 78% of non-Millennials are now using digital devices either two or three times throughout their shopping trip. This means that mobile usage is no longer as heavily skewed toward Millennials. Now, all groups are turning to their mobile devices before and during the shopping journey.

The study also found that customers are taking control of how they interact with a brand—a finding which has wider implications for marketers and advertisers. Importantly for the foodservice, grocery, and CPG industries, the study found that digital influence in these categories jumped 49% year over year, with health and wellness climbing 32%. To put these gains in perspective, these categories follow the most digitally influenced category, electronics.

The results of this study beg the question: If your customers are increasingly using mobile technology in your stores, why not allow your own employees to use mobile technology to manage store operations?

This is especially important considering your employees are (hopefully) your customers, too!

Mobile technology rules the day, and the power of this technology can be harnessed in practical ways. Put yourself in your store/regional managers’ shoes. These are problems that arise daily in the store environment:

Have a mechanical or equipment problem inside or outside the store?
Don’t spend a half-hour on the phone trying to determine if the store manager can fix it on their own. Take a photo and share it through a centralized platform to expedite that process.

Need to check the price of a promotion?
Don’t waste time consulting print-outs or emailed instructions. Use your mobile device to scan the barcode of the SKU.

Have an employee accountability problem at a location?
Don’t just chalk it up to a learning experience and hope it goes away on its own. Create checklists of tasks and hold employees accountability for completion of those tasks. Then reward employees for meeting goals.

The Best Part about Implementing Mobile Technology

You don’t have to buy your employees a new device! Employees can bring their own device and access important tools through an app.

Zenput is a software solution that utilizes mobile and cloud-based technologies. It’s a tool that can help address the aforementioned problems and more in real-time. The Zenput mobile app (also available on desktop) allows senior managers to easily create mobile forms and checklists that increase communication and improve accountability within organizations.

Overall, Zenput is the mobile solution for retailers and foodservice operators in the 21st century.

To learn more about Zenput’s capabilities in retail operations, click here.

5 Standards to Uphold for a Clean Restaurant

By David Mostovoy

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What do you do when you haven’t been at a company very long and your CEO wants to go to a favorite restaurant that was recently flagged for unsanitary practices? Well, because the practices were well publicized, you go and hope they acted on the message. This was the awkward situation a friend of mine on the East Coast found herself in this past week. A restaurant in an upscale New Jersey town was one of the cited offenders, according to inspection reports that were collected and published on NJ.com. So there she was, trying to enjoy dinner, knowing that an inspector had recently discovered there was no hand soap in the kitchen restroom. Yikes!  

But it got worse when she realized her favorite sandwich shop not only lacked hand soap at the sink, but also had no visible thermometer in the reach-in refrigerator. Her favorite sushi destination had an unclean food prep service area and floor. At that point, she was ready to stop reading… but how can you?

Ignorance may be bliss if you’re the customer, but it’s not a happy-go-lucky time for the restaurant owner. It’s embarrassing to be called out for things that are easily recognizable and fixable. Health inspections aren’t a trivia game show with mystery questions—operators know in advance what officials look for prior to inspection. It’s time for smarter operations!

Here are 5 standards you should uphold in order to maintain a clean restaurant:

  1. Develop clear and regular cleaning procedures. Cleanliness is not only a safety issue—in some cases, it could impact the quality and safety of food. Check out this story of an employee in Eugene, OR, who starts off her day by cleaning the oven of a pizzeria.

  2. Make sure store-level employees understand and are constantly reminded of the importance of cleanliness. The general manager from the pizzeria in Eugene has a corkboard that keeps up-to-date with food handler cards, so she can check to make sure her employees’ cards aren’t expired. If they are, she hands them off to her kitchen manager to address the issue. The employees must be re-certified before returning to work.

  3. Start documenting progress. Documentation isn’t just a nice-to-have; it creates a vital paper trail that can be vital in documenting important information. And if you have the right tools, you can go paperless and have all information, including past audits and inspections, stored securely on the cloud.

  4. Track the progress of locations to see which stores are clean, which stores aren’t, and why. Communication is key. The point isn’t to dishearten or shame restaurants into submission. It’s to keep customers satisfied. By educating foodservice employees and encouraging managers to develop effective procedures, restaurant operators can keep their customers consistently coming back for more.

  5. Have the ability to follow up on and fix issues at individual locations. What was the point of conducting an audit in the first place? Health inspectors in my friend’s NJ town and elsewhere will return to make sure restaurants are making progress. When it comes to health regulations, restaurant managers need to follow up once a directive is given. It’s not enough to assume these problems have been resolved. Again, documentation and communication is critical.  

The Takeaway

Creating, distributing, and collecting a baseline audit for cleanliness can be a time-consuming process without the right tools. With Zenput, restaurant operators can create a mobile form, edit, and send it out to the appropriate employees as needed. That form is automatically distributed to employees’ mobile devices, and when they answer each question, the results are aggregated in an easy-to-read dashboard. Moreover, a senior manager can set up real-time notifications of any unsanitary condition discovered during the audit. To ensure accountability, the auditor can upload a photo of a problem and the senior manager can follow up with that store to make sure the issues were resolved.

For more examples on how Zenput helps restaurants uphold standards and clean kitchens, visit Zenput's website or request a demo.

Topics: Restaurants, restaurant cleanliness

Healthy Food in C-Stores: The Transformative New Trend

By Vladik Rikhter

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From 1952 to 1972, Sheetz Inc. did not sell gasoline- the pumps were only added in 1973. There’s a similar story behind Oklahoma-based QuikTrip, which first began as a mini-mart in 1957 (And the founder was actually inspired by 7-Eleven stores during a visit to Dallas). It wasn’t until 1971 that QuikTrip installed its first gas pumps.

So there you have it. It took a decade, or in some cases two, for prominent convenience store retailers to offer gasoline. If there’s ever a “Jeopardy!” Convenience Store edition, you’re now well prepared.  Interestingly enough, both of these retailers are today considered innovative leaders in convenience store foodservice. QuikTrip is known for its QT Kitchens full-service counters, while Sheetz is known for its M•T•O (made-to-order) menu and Shweetz Bakery offerings. And as reported by Convenience Store News, both of these retailers are now looking to open more stores without gasoline. Food-only stores are not only a return to their roots, but also a realization that high-quality, prepared food (high-margin sale for retailer) is driving traffic, even without gasoline (low-margin for retailer).

"To be successful without gasoline, a store has to offer high-quality, well-differentiated prepared food," Donald Strenk, a consultant for the industry, told CSNews. "7-Eleven does well [without selling gas], but they may not be averaging $300,000 a month. Sheetz and QuikTrip have locations that do significantly high sales in the c-store."

Setting up a smaller store without gas pumps allows retailers to experiment both with a smaller footprint and different merchandise. For instance, QuikTrip’s 3,500-sq.-ft. downtown Atlanta store is even more focused on fresh foods than other locations.  

The fact that more convenience store retailers are committing to healthy choices was one of the headlines of the 2016 NACS Show. Aloha Petroleum, Ricker Oil Co. and Core-Mark International made commitments to the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) at this year’s show.

A commitment with PHA means more than “Oh, these apples in the cold case are nice to have in the front of the store.” We’re talking real commitment! For instance, Ricker’s committed to offering healthier food options at an affordable cost; marketing and promoting healthier food choices; and offering employee benefits such as a 50% discount on all fresh fruit and vegetables purchases. Aloha also committed to PHA’s beverage marketing initiatives to promote fruit and vegetable consumption and water as healthier choices. As a distributor, Core-Mark will do its part to modify merchandising sets to incorporate healthier options.

According to the PHA, half of the U.S. population visits a convenience store every single day, and these consumers are looking for healthier options. Each of the new PHA partners is “stepping up” to ensure both consumers and retailers have access to healthier, more accessible options. It’s what 21st century retailers need to do—step up to meet the changing preferences of consumers who demand quality and demand it now!

More Options, Better Execution

In our experience working with convenience store retailers, we know that consumer preferences change and that retailers must respond to them or risk the consequences of losing business. The most successful retailers adapt to change with ease. Some even thrive because they’re able to successfully differentiate themselves in the market.

Remember: The quality of fresh foods is ultimately a reflection of your brand. Because these foods are fresh, they often come with more food safety concerns, so employees must be mindful of storage temperatures and other food safety factors.

Ultimately, if retailers want to provide customers with better, healthier food choices, they have to optimize the store-level execution of safety checks and audits. 

If you’re looking for a solution to help maintain safe, high-quality food operations, read this white paper on creating a food safety audit, visit Zenput’s website, or schedule a demotoday.

Topics: C-store, food safety

Rethinking Product Placement for CPG Vendors

By David Mostovoy

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There’s a local, mom-and-pop convenience in my town that gives me an unsettling feeling every time I visit—in fact, I’ve written about it once before for this blog. I live in a small town off the beaten trail, so my options are limited. The truth is that I never know how much I’m going to pay on any given visit to this store because none of the prices are clearly marked. There is also no “flow” to product placement in this store.

Chips, snacks and candy are scattered around the store, with a non-edible, housewares aisle interrupting the product flow. The front of the store has an alcove that would be perfect for grab-and-go beverages. Instead, it’s dedicated to ice cream (off-peak in winter) and shelved beverages, separate from the cold beverages and dairy in the adjacent aisle. The back freezers seem to be underutilized with frozen food packages. And most of the customers seem to order from the fresh food counter anyway. That is one unique feature of this store—a deli/bakery setup that has become somewhat of a fixture in this small town. Indeed, with no marked prices and seemingly no rhyme or reason for product placement, this mom-and-pop store seems to do alright anyway.

But it’s not a good environment to discover new products, which is a lost opportunity for both the operator and CPG vendors. I don’t see many of the “new” snacks and beverages that I see in other stores. If the local town population isn’t demanding better product placement, who is?

This is an industry where retailers and vendors have pay-for-space and pay-for-entry agreements.

So it makes me wonder: Are vendors of new products fighting for shelf space? Do they have the ability to follow up with retailers on product pairings and placement?

Barking Up the Right Strategy

At the start of 2016, the National Retail Federation’s STORES magazine published “20 Ideas Worth Stealing in 2016.” One idea came from the brand barkTHINS, a chocolate snack food company that seemingly came out of nowhere in 2013. For those unfamiliar with barkTHINS, it’s thin, dark chocolate bark made with premium “better-for-you” ingredients, including almonds, pumpkin seeds, blueberries and quinoa. This product came to market so quickly and aggressively (and probably was such a thorn in the side of the big confectioners) that Hershey acquired them in 2016. This wasn’t by luck—barkTHINS fought for it and earned it. Their strategy basically came down to three points:

  1. Area brand managers were stocked with samples of the product.

  2. Brand managers were given freedom to negotiate with retailers when necessary.

  3. barkTHINS equipped brand managers with a dashboard to monitor account visits, product demonstrations and incremental retail sales.

Zenput Helps C-Stores Fight the Good Fight

Whether you’re an established CPG company or a newcomer fighting your way into stores, Zenput is a mobile solution that’s ideal for enterprises that have field reps. It provides a cloud-based mobile platform for account managers to check in and report promotional execution (or lack thereof) in real time. Auditing tools help to ensure compliance with product facings, pricing and promotions. Take a photo to verify shelf placement and easily share it with your team. Zenput also provides historic analysis of data that not only helps CPG companies learn from trends, but also helps them communicate with retail partners.

<p>Both expanding and already-established brands use Zenput during their store visits. Learn more about Zenput’s CPG functionality by clicking here or downloading one of these case studies for more information:

- Learn how Zenput helped Jack Link’s verify compliance for its planogram and rebate program, all while eliminating manual processes. Download Jack Link’s case study.

- Learn how Zenput helped neuro drinks gain better store-level insights for improved quality control and communication with retail partners. Download neuro drinks case study.

 

The Future of Convenience Store Foodservice

By Joe Skupinsky

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Did you go to the NACS Show in Atlanta this year? We did, and had a great time exhibiting our product for the second consecutive year! A huge thanks to everyone who stopped by our booth.

The NACS show always presents great opportunities to make new acquaintances, and it’s also a great time to catch up with our current customers. But one of the most important things we take away from NACS is education. We always want to learn about the topics and trends that matter most to our customers.

One of the hot topics—and it has been a hot topic for the past few years—is the future of foodservice in the convenience store industry. Convenience Store News attended a foodservice trends session led by Clint McKinney,  group director of Category Advisory- Convenience Retail for Coca-Cola North America. McKinney shared six keys to satisfying new customers:

  1. Value Plus - meal bundling or offering a new topping or flavor
  2. Evolution of Healthy - simple ingredients, fresh food, transparency, and “clean eating”
  3. Flexibility & Discovery - expanding meal occasions to coincide with the growth of snacking
  4. Hyper-Convenience - on-demand delivery, takeout, and drive-thrus
  5. Digitization - using social media to create share-worthy content
  6. Brand Authority - having a clear brand identity and telling a clear story  

In another session, NACS Chairman Jack Kofdarali advised retailers that they must put an emphasis on food as challenges arise in other product categories. He explained how not that long ago, customers were choosing between something delicious vs. something fast. That’s no longer the case, as many retailers are providing delicious food, quickly.

Improving Retail Execution: A Practical, On-Location Approach

Successful convenience store foodservice operators would agree that execution is fundamental to building a brand. That’s where Zenput helps convenience store retailers and other foodservice operators. Zenput allows retailers to identify what they do best and where they need to improve—all to strengthen their brand.

Let’s revisit some of the key points and see how, exactly, Zenput can help C-store operators with each.

Value Plus - Zenput allows retailers to build custom audit forms, for everything from store cleanliness to price and promotional accuracy. Inaccuracies and issues can be identified and addressed in real time.

Evolution of Healthy - Customers want healthy and fresh foods, but supplying the demand has its own challenges. The store’s cold case needs to be regularly restocked and refreshed. With Zenput, managers can make this a daily task and track compliance across stores. Zenput is even compatible with a food thermometer as an added food safety audit functionality. 

Hyper-Convenience - If you’re a convenience store operator with drive-thrus - great - you’re ahead of the industry curve! Using Zenput to audit your drive-thru, along with your kitchen and staging area, helps identify potential weaknesses like dirty or broken appliances that may be slowing you down or costing you customers.

Zenput is also a great tool for maintaining high execution in the forecourt, which strongly drives convenience store sales. This topic was addressed in another NACS Show educational session. John Eichberger, executive director of the Fuels Institute, discussed the importance of first impressions at the forecourt and advised retailers to make it clean and friendly, while satisfying customer cravings.

Convenience store retailers can also audit their forecourts to make sure they’re clean, functioning, and up-to-date with all the latest promotional signage. Whether they’re located outside or inside the store, clean restrooms certainly send the right message to customers who are considering a foodservice purchase.

Eichberger added that there are three principles to keep in mind: brand visibility, brand perception and brand experience. Like the foodservice takeaways, it all comes back to brand.

Practical, Everyday Branding

If there’s one takeaway about branding that I want to share, it’s this: it doesn’t sit on a shelf.  

There’s the philosophy of branding, and then there’s branding in reality. At Zenput, we are practitioners of reality, and our flexible platform reflects that. We want retailers and foodservice operators to use our mobile solution to measure and report actual conditions in their stores. Get notified in real-time when something is askew, assign a task to fix it, and then have the ability to follow up to ensure its completion. Experiment with new audits to improve retail execution and know you can easily change them, as you should in an ever-changing retail environment.

To learn more about our mobile solution, check out our blog, or click here to: find out more about how we help convenience store operators improve their operations.

If you'd like to schedule a demo, go to zenput.com and click on ‘Schedule demo’ in the top right corner.

 

Topics: C-store