Over the last five years, fuel retail convenience stores have been developing and expanding their in-house food service offering as part of their growth strategy. This international trend took off during the COVID-19 pandemic, when consumers began to rely on their local c-stores for fresh fruit and vegetables, grocery store items as well as fresh, fast, quality takeaways.

The solid food strategy built up by FreshStop at Caltex stores across South Africa over the past few years resulted in many of their retailers being able to ride out the various stages of lockdown, and in some cases increase turnover, despite the drastic drop in fuel sales. Their portfolio of in-house brands includes Seattle Coffee, Crispy Chicken, Grill to Go, Hooked On Fish & Chips, Sausage Saloon, and Donut Delite.

FreshStop initially launched its first in-house fast-food brand, Crispy Chicken, in 2014 and it quickly gained market traction and customer support. With 74 Crispy Chicken outlets across South Africa, it continues to be the top-selling in-house food brand. “Chicken is still the biggest food driver in SA and our Crispy Chicken brand has proved what a difference an in-store outlet can make to a store’s bottom line,” says Joe Boyle, Managing Director at FreshStop.

“The success of the Crispy Chicken brand has resulted in sales increasing to 20% of store participation, with this figure jumping to 30% with advertising promotions. Most exciting is that new stores that have introduced Crispy Chicken outlets have experienced increases in turnover, some by as much as 250%,” explains Boyle.

Another winning in-house brand has been Grill to Go, which offers customers a healthier grilled option such as delicious value-for-money grilled chicken and beef burgers and grilled chicken portions. With 58 outlets nationally, retailers have incrementally increased turnover from under R10,000 per month to over R100,000 per week, with sales increasing steadily.

“Convenience stores are now in a position where they can compete head-on with Quick-Service Restaurants (QSRs) on quality, time and price. The pandemic has created an environment in which c-stores have evolved and taken another step forward by offering shoppers additional benefits, such as not having to enter a shopping mall, no parking fees and the availability of a complementary range of products compared to the QSR environment,” adds Boyle.

A focused foodservice approach gives c-store franchisees, like those at FreshStop, a basket of food offerings that suit their specific customer base and location, at affordable entry costs. “Store Retailers want to be in a position to offer their customers new local brands and food lines to attract new shoppers and drive sales. It’s about keeping the essentials of the brand consistent whilst bringing innovation to suit the retailers and their customers,” concludes Boyle.