TEMPLE, Texas — McLane Co., the supply chain services provider here that distributes primarily to convenience stores and chain restaurants throughout the United States, has launched “Fresh on the Go,” a new fresh food program that will offer its convenience store customers access to fresh-cut and whole fruit, ready-to-eat salads, vegetable medleys, yogurts, cheeses, natural fruit juices and smoothies, as well as a new line of deli sandwiches and gourmet wraps.
The program is designed in a flexible, turnkey fashion. Although the products are available for McLane's c-store customers to purchase and stock however they wish, McLane has also negotiated with an equipment supplier for group pricing on five different freestanding cooler footprints, and has designed proprietary graphics for each of those coolers, according to Grant Demers, product director for perishables and foodservice at McLane.
“This cutting-edge equipment provides our retailers with a unique destination for fresh products, designed to ensure the consumer feels comfortable browsing the product selection,” Demers explained. “Unless the retailer is already selling fresh products within their stores, we strongly suggest that they spend some time evaluating the environment that will support their fresh concept. Rather than simply resetting a few shelves in the cooler door, creating an exclusive destination helps assure the consumer that your store is committed to fresh products.”
Demers added that McLane would also act in an advisory role for interested retailers — utilizing internal resources, such as its proprietary database of sales data for its more than 60,000 customers, as well as third-party demographic data from sources such as Nielsen Spectra — in order to help them decide which of their stores might succeed with a fresh food program, and which items would work best in those stores.
Additionally, McLane has developed a proprietary procurement system that identifies key items from their customers' orders, and routes those items directly to the appropriate manufacturer for processing. This process addresses the fallibility of forecasting, and helps McLane ensure order accuracy and peak freshness at time of delivery.
During the past decade, many c-store operators have begun offering premium coffee and a selection of quality grab-and-go foods. However, due to sourcing challenges, success with highly perishable items like produce and salads has proven elusive for many retailers, with the exception of chains that have highly developed proprietary foodservice programs, such as Wawa, Pa.-based Wawa Food Markets and Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz; large chains with their own distribution networks, such as Dallas-based 7-Eleven; or c-store chains operated by supermarket retailers, such as GetGo from Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh.
“For those retailers that are keenly aware of the potential for this category, but have yet to take the plunge, Fresh on the Go provides an all-inclusive solution,” Demers said. “By monitoring market trends, and listening to what our customers are looking for as it relates to fresh products, we arrived at a product mix that we believe can satisfy the evolving tastes of the consumer, and capture some of the fresh snacking dollar.”
Demers noted that while several items offered by the program have a shelf life of about a week, other items, such as the salads and fresh-cut fruit, would only be feasible at stores that sell sufficient volume to receive deliveries from McLane at least twice per week. All items in the program are shipped with the retail customers' regular McLane deliveries.
Fresh on the Go was initially rolled out as a pilot program in July 2008, and during the subsequent testing phase, feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, Demers said.
“We're excited about the timing of this launch,” Demers said. “It seems counterintuitive, on the one hand, given the soft economy, to introduce a program with an average cost of goods above that of a traditional grab-and-go item. However, considering the evolving tastes of the consumer, and the potential for convenience-driven shoppers to trade down from the QSR if they can find an agreeable product selection at their local c-store, we believe a thoughtful and definite approach to the fresh foods arena will drive incremental sales for years to come.”