General Merchandise: A Fresh Outlook on Meat

Is new Kwik Trip endeavor a meaty harbinger for the industry?

Typically, food safety and spoilage issues make retailers pause before stocking fresh meat. But astute marketing and operational approaches—not to mention the lure of market-basket growth—are giving some c-stores a new outlook.

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 breasts as well as iconic Wisconsin brand 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-shopping 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 Convenience Store Products. “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 15to 20day window from the point of distribution to sale. 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, says 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.”

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.”