If there’s one thing that the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t diminished it’s Australians’ love of a saucy meat pie. And while the food on the go category initially suffered due to reduced travel, by mid-year a desire from consumers for convenience and proximity to home became more important, and the category recovered to remain the third largest in the petrol and convenience channel.

According to the latest Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) State of the Industry Report SOI 2019, food on the go was the second fastest growing category delivering $68 million in extra sales or 38 per cent of total channel growth.

The food service category continues to grow as a share of food on the go as more retailers broaden range especially around snacking alternatives. Innovation is critical to growth and sustainability is at the forefront of supplier’s minds, with a lot of new product development being seen including plant-based options, or products free from artificial colours and flavours.

In June last year, convenience giant 7-Eleven released a new plant-based range of ‘no beef’ pies and ‘no sausage’ rolls across all 7-Eleven stores nationally. The new range came as more Australians embrace vegan and vegetarian lifestyles, both for health and ethical reasons.

General Manager Marketing for 7-Eleven, Julie Laycock, said the company’s food innovation team had developed products that tasted just like their meat-based products.

“We didn’t just want to have plant-based options; we wanted to make sure they were tasty products in their own right. Our team developed these exclusive products with our suppliers, and we’ve done extensive testing with consumers to ensure the new products taste delicious,” Laycock said.

More recently, Mrs Mac’s also launched a range of plant-based pies and rolls, including the Smokey BBQ Jackfruit Pie and the Black Bean and Chipotle Burrito Roll, to cater to the growing segment of health conscious consumers.

Sam Tomeo, Marketing Manager, Mrs Mac’s, said that it’s vital to continuously evolve the Mrs Mac’s brand offer with changing consumer needs.

“Research shows one-in-three Australians are actively reducing meat consumption and Mrs Mac’s has responded by launching an innovative range to excite this consumer not already engaged within category,” said Tomeo.

“Mrs Mac’s is always mindful of continuously evolving our offer to align with emerging trends, consumer expectation and enabling our retailers to build value and entice new customers to the category. The new plant-based range has been developed to capitalise on the growing trend of consumers reducing meat in their diets.

“At the same time, we have also launched a new premium offer under Mrs Mac’s Special Batch to cater for the growing consumer demand for elevated food and clean products.”

Further to the release of its plant-based range, Mrs Mac’s has made sustainability a key strategic priority and is increasing its focus of becoming a more sustainable business.

“A great example of this commitment is all our new products are free of artificial colours and flavours. Furthermore, Mrs Mac’s is proud to support local suppliers and continue reducing our footprint through recycling organic waste and using fully recyclable packaging wherever possible.”

Tomeo has also teased about an exciting new range that will be launched into the petrol and convenience channel over the coming months.

“Our R&D team have developed a new pastry format that will have a bakery style look and feel. What is really exciting about this innovation is retailers will be able to leverage the new offer to drive new shoppers into the category,” he said.

Within the petrol and convenience channel, Patties Foods and its Australian-owned brands are the market leaders for hot on the go savoury options, with increasing presence in delivery services through these outlets. 

Recent new products offer a variety of on the go and ready made meal options for consumers, delivering to the convenience shopper’s need for food for now and food for later, which were in huge demand throughout 2020 when options to dine out were limited.

Anand Surujpal, General Manager Marketing and Innovation, Patties Foods, says that Four’N Twenty Traveller Pies and King Sized Sausage Rolls remain the top performing products, and the Four’N Twenty Classic Meat Pie also continues to be a favourite.

But innovation is important to the market leaders and Four’N Twenty has recently had a few new product launches, including a meat free range.

Four’N Twenty launched the new Philly Cheesesteak Traveller last year, inspired by Four’N Twenty ambassador and Philadelphia 76ers basketball superstar, Ben Simmons. It’s the classic taste of 100 per cent Australian beef and onion, topped with a Philly Cheesesteak style cheese sauce, wrapped in golden pastry.

“It was a great success and important in fuelling double digit growth, showing that new products add to sales growth rather than cannibalising other products,” said Surujpal.

Further flavour rotations will be launched in the Traveller format throughout 2021.

Meanwhile, the new Four’N Twenty Traveller Chicken & Vegetable, with 100 per cent Australian chicken, vegetables and gravy wrapped in golden pastry, is a hot seller and bringing new consumers into the category. Similarly, the recently launched Four’N Twenty Meat Free range is successfully bringing new users into the channel and category, particularly in the lunch time occasion.

“We are always innovating in this space, especially when it comes to new flavour profiles and proteins,” says Surujpal.

“Just as we are innovative with our products, our marketing team is always developing engaging and progressive ways to connect with our customers, especially in the digital and social space.

“We are evolving and growing our product range through our understanding of how consumers receive information and interact with our brands. Our marketing plans are tailored to our consumers, and we work in a broad range of media including television, print, outdoor, social media and strategic partnerships.

“Last year’s Four’N Twenty Ben Simmons consumer promotion was a strong performer and a great example of how we leveraged Ben Simmons’ role as a Four’N Twenty ambassador to fuel significant growth of the Traveller format.

“Similarly, the AFL partnership has put the Four’N Twenty brand in a unique position to assist retail partners drive sales for the brand and Food-on-the-go category.

“Looking ahead, there are big things coming for the nostalgic brand in 2021, watch this space!”

The petrol and convenience channel plays a critical role with the sale of meat pies and sausage rolls, as Tomeo from Mrs Mac’s says, “Consuming a meat pie on the road is a way of life for many Australians”.

“Mrs Mac’s has been a part of that history by elevating the humble pie into a national icon. As a brand we aim to build on that heritage by continuously evolving our offer with the needs of on the go consumers.

“Within the petrol and convenience channel, pies and rolls are driving the majority of the volume. Retail data shows across both formats, traditional flavours remain the best sellers. The Mrs Mac’s core range continues to be fan favourites with our Famous Beef, Steak & Cheese, and Beef, Cheese & Bacon the strongest performing products.

“We do see younger consumers in blue collar professions heavily consuming our brand,” explains Tomeo. “The nature of their work means they are often eating food on the go, so the hot food category is a convenient option and as result these consumers engage with Mrs Mac’s across breakfast, lunch, and snacking occasions.”

Leveraging the opportunity

When it comes to maximising the sale of meat pies and sausage rolls, there is nothing more important that a fully stocked pie warmer, with abundant hot food offers to tempt shoppers and drives increased sales.

Having an open dialogue between retailers and suppliers, will ensure that retailers can stay ahead emerging trends and consumer preferences, and keep their pie warmers filled with a strong food offer.

“With the impacts of COVID-19 and uncertainty in the economic environment, we have seen consumers placing greater value in trusted brands like Mrs Mac’s,” says Tomeo. “Within the petrol and convenience channel we see retailers leveraging the equity of the Mrs Mac’s brand by anchoring their food offers to our core range and leveraging our innovation to convert new shoppers.  

“Mrs Mac’s invests heavily unlocking insights to understand consumer attitudes and behaviour and by partnering with Mrs Mac’s, retailers can leverage those insights to enhance their food offer and grow category sales.”

Meanwhile, Patties Foods’ Surujpal says: “Integrated sales and marketing activations are essential in sustaining Patties Foods’ leadership in the petrol and convenience channel and food on the go category. We are always pushing boundaries with engaging promotions and activations to support our retail partners and excite shoppers in the channel.”

This article was originally published in the February/March issue of Convenience & Impulse Retailing Magazine.

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