Food for thought: A look at on-the-go food in P&C

Once upon a time, on-the-go food bought at a service station was met with caution and trepidation, now consumers expect, and are often rewarded with, the quality of food you would find at most Quick Service Restaurants (QSR).

During Covid, as consumers avoided crowded supermarkets and restaurants, the convenience channel’s on-the-go offer saw incredible growth as time-poor, crowd-wary, consumers searched for an appetising, affordable, and efficient hot meal.

According to the AACS State of the Industry Half Year Report 2022, the on-the-go food category grew by 5.3 per cent and hot food grew 4.9 per cent to remain the largest value category within Foodservice.

Anand Surujpal, General Manager of Marketing and Innovation at Patties Foods said P&C plays a key role in the Four’N Twenty broad distribution network.

“We are proud to be a part of on-the-go food occasions including iconic Aussie road trips, daily commutes, or even quick afternoon snacks that the petrol and convenience (P&C) channel is commonly used for.”

Within the convenience sector, Four’N Twenty is the branded market leader for hot, on-the-go savoury options.

“The products flying out of pie warmers across Australia are the Four’N Twenty King Size Sausage Roll, the Four’N Twenty King Size Cheese & Bacon Sausage Roll, and the Four’N Twenty Traveller Classic Meat Pie.

“They continue to be the top performers and have achieved double-digit growth within the P&C channel over the last year.”

Bruce Feodoroff, CEO, Mrs Mac’s has seen a strong performance from its Travellers and Pasties segments, which have grown more than twice in size since Q1 2020.

“We also have data indicating that our Traveller product has moved from a 16 per cent to a 24 per cent share of dollars in the same period. However, the humble sausage rolls remain the key volume format with a 41 per cent share of sales and steady growth.”

Retailers are now more clued onto the benefits of hot food and how a well-presented food offer can go a long way in enticing customers, whether that be through an eye-catching, well-lit, pie-warmer, or the aroma of freshly baked pastries.

Michael Brick, General Manager at Meris Food Equipment, said the hot food opportunity in the P&C industry is significant and will continue to offer growth for years ahead as the industry transitions and re-establishes as destinations of convenience, where refuelling our bodies is as much of a driver as refuelling our vehicles.

“Hot food offers great margin, is popular throughout the day and night, and offers the ultimate in repeat business. As stores continue to offer increased range and freshness, and consumer perception improves, then the demand for more builds. We obviously see the benefits of our own store improvements, but as the industry as a whole improves, it is helping change consumer perceptions and subsequently buying patterns to benefit all in the industry.”

Spoilt for choice

No longer are consumers faced by only having the choice of a meat pie or a curried egg sandwich, instead they now have a gluttony of options – from meat pies, pasties, sushi, sausage rolls, burgers, to various plant-based options – there is something for everyone.

Andrew Cardinale, Brand and Category Manager at New Sunrise, has noted that purchasing a meal and coffee is now the primary shopper mission behind fuel.

“In recent years, New Sunrise has made significant adaptations to its on-the-go offerings. Our on-the-go ‘Eat Local’ promotions offer relevant deals for all times of day, available year-round, with everyday low prices.

“In addition, the ‘Cheeky Tuesday’ promotion offers exclusive hot specials only on Tuesdays, aimed at driving trial and foot traffic into New Sunrise stores.”

Coupling on-the-go food with beverages and snacks is a highly popular option for customers looking for ‘perceived value’ in their purchases.

“New Sunrise has grown ahead of the market at 22 per cent. The food-to-go promotional program has delivered growth by providing consumers with a consistent value offer everyday,” explained Cardinale.

Surujpal said that Patties Foods’ cross-functional team works closely with retailers to create clever and engaging marketing, and that a close partnership at all touchpoints and the ability to be agile is key.

“Over the last 12 months, Four’N Twenty sales have continued to outperform the category, demonstrating an ability to help drive retailer performance. We ensure that retailers have a strong supply of product, so that no store has a bare pie warmer or shelf. A fully stocked pie warmer, with abundant hot food offers tempt shoppers and drive increased sales.”

Brick agrees that the display of food is paramount to enticing customers to make a purchase of on-the-go food, therefore businesses need to ensure there is sufficient freshly cooked food on display all the time.

“Working through waste management is important, but limited food on display will limit sales. So, building in some waste, the right equipment choices, doing the work with a company like Meris to ensure the right packaging choices, food cooking and handling to gain maximum shelf life will give staff confidence to put more food out on display building your sales over time.”

While the importance of a fully stocked pie warmer cannot be understated, Brick says it is not a one size fits all operation when it comes to what equipment each store needs.

“Some strategies that work great in metro areas don’t always work in regional areas and vice versa. Each business demographic has its own set of unique positions and situations.

“However, the trend of freshly cooked food-to-go is always growing with year-on-year increases. Businesses need to train staff and really embrace displaying as much fresh food as possible to increase choice for customers, which in turn will increase sales and change the perspective of customers.”

Innovation is key

Staying abreast of market trends and evolving consumer preferences is pivotal to survival in the P&C channel, which is why Patties Foods has a special insights team that works to keep up to date with these changes.

Surujpal and Patties Foods’ team identified that many customers are now looking for a better-for-you product in the convenience sector, so they developed the Four’N Twenty Traveller Hi-Protein.

“The Four’N Twenty Traveller Hi-Protein contains 20 grams of protein per serve and a four-health star rating. This means the Four’N Twenty Traveller Hi-Protein delivers 25 per cent more protein than the traditional Four’N Twenty Traveller Classic Meat Pie. The product is designed for health-conscious consumers looking to increase their protein intake through an enjoyable and convenient snack.”

Not content with just changing up the beloved meat pie, Four’N Twenty also saw an opportunity to make changes to a product that had not seen any innovation in quite some time – the sausage roll.

“This led to Four’N Twenty patenting a world first technology developed at the Bairnsdale bakery allowing sausage rolls to be infused with sauce. Using this technology Four’N Twenty created the innovative Loaded! rolls.  Available in two mouth-watering flavours – Meat Lovers filled with BBQ sauce; and Brekkie Roll offering the classic Aussie brekkie taste of bacon and cheese with an egg sauce centre.”

Aside from the Four’N Twenty brand, which is a staple amongst tradies and blue collar workers, Patties Foods identified that those using the convenience channel for hot on-the-go food options are open to more premium alternatives, evident through Patties’ premium pie brand Herbert Adams being the fastest growing within hot on-the-go savouries*.

“Herbert Adams is launching new-look packaging highlighting ‘Gourmet for the Everyday’ in the new bakery range, bringing to life the provenance and quality ingredients of the Herbert Adams products. As part of the new look, Herbert Adams has introduced a slow-cooked Wagyu Beef and Portobello Mushroom pie that has scored well with consumers throughout product tastings and will capture those looking for more affordable luxury during tough economic times.”

Feodoroff at Mrs Mac’s has noticed that customers in the hot food category have been seeking ‘bigger eats’ and added value over the past year, which has inspired its latest innovation – the ‘Loaded’ range.

“This range features two popular ‘Pub Classic’ flavours: The Roast of the Day Pie, The Chicken Parmi Pie and a combo deal featuring two flavours: Angus Beef Roll and Sweet Chilli Pork Roll. We are continually exploring new product ideas and innovations and have multiple new products in the works for the P&C channel.”

Innovation doesn’t only apply to the food on offer, but also the equipment being used to deliver the product, and Brick says that Meris Food Equipment is always tinkering with both current equipment to maximise the menu offering as well as investing in the right equipment that drives a clear ROI.

“The electrification of kitchens combined with challenges of energy costs and strains on total energy required have been the perfect storm to for us to introduce the FlashGRILL electric griddle plate. A heavy commercial use griddle/hotplate, that is electric but uses significantly less energy, requires lower power input, and offers significantly better heat distribution is proving to be gaining strong interest.”

*IRI MarketEdge MAT to 01/01/23 based on data definitions provided by Patties Foods Pty Ltd

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