Rotating Menus in C-Stores?

Changing up food offerings could lure in more fickle millennials
chefs hat

Whether their food comes from mall food courts, airports, stadiums, vending machines or workplaces, consumers now expect fresh, quality meals.

As the channel antes up with made-to-order foodservice programs, one way to differentiate the c-store offer is to implement a rotating menu concept featuring local restaurants.

Nine-year-old Chicago start-up Fooda tapped into the collective exasperation of office workers tired of mediocre lunch options. It started partnering with local restaurants to offer high-quality in-office dining options. This virtual cafeteria provides daily changing meals from about 150 Chicago-area restaurants at or below retail cost. It expanded to New York in 2013 with an eye toward reaching as many as 50 U.S. cities.

Not sure if it can work in a retail environment? Fooda just opened its first mall location in downtown Chicago in November. The business will offer a limited number of menu options for lunch from one of its 60 restaurant partners.

And the idea has potential for c-stores, because more consumers expect to have fresh food available “whether they’re at the mall or rushing through midtown Manhattan,” says Donna Hood Crecca, senior director of Technomic Inc., Chicago. In particular, it may appeal to younger generations who’ve grown up around grab-and-go retail environments, and who seem increasingly open to buying prepared foods where they buy gas.


Chicago-area restaurants that provide daily changing meals via Fooda, at or below retail cost

So what’s the catch? “It really comes down to the question of whether or not c-stores’ food quality and offerings can be positioned next to local restaurants,” Crecca says. “A lot of c-stores are making really good strides in becoming more restaurant-like. But [when] putting their items head to head with area restaurants, it comes down to: Can they compete?”

The fact that c-stores own grab-and-go among various consumers and occasions works hugely in their favor as foodservice technology looks to hit that sweet spot of speed and quality. And certainly, some c-stores don’t have the available footprint to host a group like Fooda. But awareness of the changing foodservice landscape is an advantage in itself.

“C-store operators need to stay on top of the Foodas, high-quality vending machines and gourmet food delivery businesses of the world,” Crecca says, “both to see if there’s any part of this that [their] brand can get involved with, or how [they] need to position [themselves] to compete.”