A Fresh Outlook on Meat

Is new Kwik Trip endeavor a meaty harbinger for the industry?
Kwik Trip rolls out fresh meat

Convenience store chain Kwik Trip rolled out a fresh meat program, seeking to create a one-stop shop for dinner.

LA CROSSE, Wis. -- Typically, food safety and spoilage issues make convenience store retailers pause about stocking fresh meat products. But astute marketing and operational approaches--not to mention the lure of market-basket growth--are giving some retailers a new outlook on taking the fresh-meat leap.

Vertically integrated and with the scale to make it work, La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip Inc. is now bullish on fresh meat. In early May, the 439-store retailer rolled out a fresh meat program under its Kitchen Cravings brand. Designed to provide the main ingredient—beef, pork or chicken—for summer grilling, the line debuted in 414 Kwik Trip c-stores in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and Kwik Star-branded stores in Iowa. 

Partnering with La Crosse-based Bakalars Sausage Co. and Reinhart FoodService, Kwik Trip now sells fresh hamburger, premium steaks, premium center-cut pork chops and chicken breast as well as Wisconsin-iconic Klements Brats.

With the products’ price points competitive with local grocers and mass merchandisers, Kwik Trip executives regard the effort as a value proposition for customers seeking even deeper one-stop-shop convenience.

“We’re a vertically integrated company that owns its own bakery. We have the buns and the baked goods but offered nothing to go inside the bun,” John McHugh, director of corporate communications and leadership development for Kwik Trip, told CSP. “Plus, we sell condiments, cups, soda, beer, paper plates and utensils, so why drive customers to a second store to buy the meat?”

Fresh meats typically have a 15- to 20-day window from the point of distribution to sale, according to one beef manufacturer. Thus, keeping waste and spoilage low is tricky. To make matters more complicated, customers don’t view the local c-store as a destination for fresh meat.

At Kwik Trip, program exposure is not a problem because the in-store presentation enhances the offer, said McHugh. Refrigerated meat cases provide what he calls an “attractive presentation. When you walk in, it’s a visual customers can’t miss.”

The chain is building local market awareness with TV ads that McHugh calls “clever.” In the spots, a butcher climbs out of a meat cooler to remind a customer that while they might have those buns for the cookout, they forgot the meat—and here it is! The spot’s tagline is “Fresh Quality at Kwik Trip.”

Kwik Trip is eager to use its vertically integrated competencies to drive Kitchen Cravings growth. “While raw, red meat is new to us, it’s not like we had to establish a new replenishment system to execute this,” said McHugh. “Fresh beef is just one more new product added to the Kitchen Cravings line.”

McHugh could not say how the fresh meat program is performing so far, but he did mention that “with these products, we are bucking the trends of higher price points [at the c-store level]. We are very competitive with big-box retailers.”

Eight years ago, the company dipped its toe into merchandising fresh pizza, and McHugh recalls the chain taking “baby steps in rolling it out. We had to ask the question, ‘Is it fresh, quality pizza?’ We had to ask the same question with Kitchen Cravings.”