Cover Story: Snack Attack

The abundance of options, our increasingly busy lifestyles and our culture of customization have irrevocably changed the way we eat. Products brings you first-person stories from the front lines of the new meal occasion.

Paul Servais

Retail Food Service Director, Kwik Trip, La Crosse, Wis.

Consumer snacking trends must now serve as the nucleus for any successful initiative. But if you try and define what a snack is, good luck.

The definition of a snack is blurred, and the definition of a day-part has also changed drastically. I can rightfully say that everything we sell at Kwik Trip within foodservice is a “snack.”

The grazing phenomenon is picking up greater momentum all the time. To qualify grazing, it’s not just millennials but all consumer demographics, bar none. And to further throw a potential curve at us, customers have a tendency to come in at 1 p.m. looking for breakfast and a cheeseburger at 6 a.m. That’s why we put lunch items out at the start of the day—they generate sales.

Kwik Trip dove into full-fledged foodservice in 2002, and in that period it’s been about program evolution, not revolution. We saw the shifts coming, and we trained our coworkers accordingly. We might have all the software necessary to make menu-related decisions, but it still all comes down to your gut instinct—knowing when to pack the cases and when to back off.

You never know where your next great idea will originate. I was in a pretzel shop at the Dallas airport and noticed a breakfast sandwich on a pretzel roll and thought, “We can do that!” In the near  future—maybe by summer—we’ll roll out a steak, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich on a pretzel roll. Just like with the ever-changing consumer eating habits, stay tuned.

Jerry Weiner

Vice President of Foodservice, Rutter’s Farm Stores, York, Pa.

When I was first putting together our menu, which was in 2007, I knew I wanted fresh-baked bread, and I knew I wanted a lot of variety. It was all about options, starting with base foods and letting the customers do to it what they wanted. Give them lots of choices and let them get creative and make it personal.

When I got to the appetizers, that was to drive combos: Everybody was going to come in and get a Philly cheese sub, but they need to get a side and then I can sell them a drink, give them a discount, plus [increase] check averages and penny profits. That’s Restaurant 101.

A couple of things I added to [the appetizer] list I did just so people would be talking about what we had, because they were not what other people had. Most places in our market … had fries, but that’s all they offered on the side. So obviously I’m going to bring in a whole bunch of stuff. I picked a fried pickle spear. If we sold beer it would have been a natural. But without beer I was thinking, nobody’s going to buy these things so I’ll have it for about three months. But at least people will be talking about our program, saying, “Look, you can get a fried pickle at Rutter’s!” It became one of our biggest sellers—it still is.

When I look at sides, fries are No. 1, but only if I add the small and large together. Very close to the two of them is mozzarella sticks—which I knew would be popular; I didn’t expect it to be that popular. When I get past the top three items—fries, mozzarella sticks and, are you ready for this, mac and cheese bites—once you get past that, the next five items [by] how many units I sell a year, they’re within 2,000 to 3,000 of each other. They’re all at the same place.

Customers looked at this whole variety, and they were ordering two, three, even four of these different appetizer sides, and that became their meal. So when they’re snacking, they might come in at 10 at night and buy one or two, but when they’re on their half-hour lunch they’ll buy two or three and make a meal out of it.

It keeps reinforcing what I think all of the studies, research and our own gut feeling tells us from observation, that customers have reached the point of a couple of things regarding food: Speed has always been an issue, value is an issue, but variety and customization—they want a lot of choice and they want to get it the way they want it. They don’t want anybody determining what their plate is going to look like.

A sandwich in our world averages around $3.89. Sides run anywhere from $1.39 to $1.99, and I brought in a large size of the mozzarella sticks because it was so popular … but the vast majority of sides are under two bucks. I felt that in that price point, people would be more inclined to make a combo, so if they buy two or three sides they’re going to be somewhere between a sandwich and a sub price. … Depending on the item, they’ll wind up with probably as much of a fill for the stomach as if they bought a ham and cheese sandwich.

Late-night snack, afternoon snack and very early morning—that 2 a.m. crowd, I love those people—they are very much into the snacks and breakfast. I’ve always been amazed that McDonald’s didn’t offer breakfast [outside the morning day-part]. I can’t believe it took them 60 years to figure that out. I don’t know what it was that ultimately drove them there, but that was the biggest no-brainer for a very smart company that I’ve seen in a long time.