all times to appeal to customer taste preferences throughout
the day. Even sweet varieties, such as apple-cinnamon-filled
taquitos, fill the niche for dessert or a sweet snack.
Being a travel center that serves food 24 hours a day,
TA has seen a boost in roller grill sales during all dayparts,
especially snack times. “It’s not just for the lunch daypart
any more. Customers are using it for their mid-morning and
mid-afternoon snacks,” Matthews said.
Consumers are snacking more, so c-stores should stock
roller grills with a variety of products at off-peak times to satisfy their customers’ munchies with a hot food item. About
two-thirds of consumers reported that they replace lunch
with a snack at least once a week, according to Technomic’s
recent “Lunch Consumer Trend Report.” Almost half (47%)
of consumers say they primarily visit the same few familiar
restaurants at lunch.
However, two of five customers polled said they eat a wide
variety of foods for lunch, so
variety and customization
options remain important,
according to the report.
The variety of products
tailored for roller grills have
moved far beyond the hot dog.
Tulsa, Okla.-based Quik Trip
offers Buffalo Chicken Bites,
Cheeseburger Rollers and
Loaded Potato Rollers. Circle
K, a Couche-Tard company with more than 3,000
c-stores nationally, offers a
broad selection of Roller Bites
and tacquito flavors, such as
Ranchero Steak, Pepperjack
Cheese and Southwest
Chicken. Mozzarella sticks, stuffed bread sticks and seemingly
any filled, cylindrical food item can be found on roller grills.
New products and limited-time offerings (LTOs) keep
the roller grill interesting for customers, but sometimes nos-
talgia can be the appeal. At TA, corn dog sales are five times
what they were two years ago. “Our corn dog business has
exploded,” Matthews said. “They are the comfort food of
the roller grill. They take people back to a different time.”
“Managers need to understand that hot dogs will be
wasted and that the roller grill is no place for retail account-
ing,” Dirks said. “It makes sense to use retail accounting
when counting retail inventory, but not foodservice.”
Managers should also maintain condiment areas and posi-
tion displays of complementary products (chips, cookies and
other side items) in areas easily accessible to the grill. Product
and promotional signage should be kept fresh and changed
when needed to maintain visual appeal of the roller grill area.
To maintain the grill area, TA assigns a host to the roller grill
area during busy times, typically 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Using ServSafe food handling standards is a must, and
they begin as soon as roller grill foods are delivered to
stores. Food needs to be stored and thawed according to
manufacturers’ directions. And, grills need to be cleaned
and sanitized regularly.
Thanks to a surge of new products focused on ethnic diversity,
the roller grill—the original anchor for most c-store hot food
programs—is hotter than ever. The one thing operators appreciate
most about roller grills is that you hardly notice they’re there.
TIGHTER PRODUCT MANAGEMENT
As the roller grill segment has matured, the grills have
improved. Rollers grip products better and do a much better job of cooking items uniformly. As a food merchandiser,
the grills are more visually appealing and conducive to self-serve sales. But the grills still require management.
One of the key challenges is training store managers that
it is acceptable to throw away a food item that may have
been left on the grill a little too long. In fact, leaving that
item on the grill actually hurts sales, and a full grill has
much more sales appeal.
PROMOTE THE EXPERIENCE
The motion of foods on
the grill rollers, warm buns
from the hot drawer and do-it-yourself condiments bars,
are all part of the roller grill
experience. It may not be a
reservation at a chef’s table
in the kitchen of a fine dining
establishment, but people are
drawn to the theater of food.
Even the humble roller grill
offers action that needs to be
In addition to the roller
grill experience, c-stores
should promote price points
creatively and bundle meal
deal combinations. Especially in today’s economy, consumers are pinching pennies, and roller grill meals can be
a great value. Circle K offers two tornados for $2.22, for
example. Customers have come to expect value meals from
quick serve restaurants, Dirks said, so bundling is critical
for c-stores to compete.
“We’re really trying to do more meal combos off the grill,”
TA’s Matthews said. “We offer two corn dogs, a bag of chips
and a pop for $2.44. That’s cheaper than eating fast food.”
To encourage repeat sales and reward regular customers,
Speedway includes hot dogs, tornados and taquitos as part of
its Speedy Rewards Food Club. After purchasing six food items,
customers earn 1,000 bonus points on their Speedy Rewards
card. Points can be accumulated and used to purchase a range
of food, drink and merchandise items as well as fuel discounts.
Loyalty programs, product bundling and price promotions need to be supported with in-store signage, touted on
company Websites and advertised to reach target consumers. Roller grills are easy to operate, but it takes effort to
make them a success. CSD