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Hen Pecked

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					                Hen Pecked
                       White Hen Pantry’s menu expands
                        to hot foodservice and catering
                                                     By Samantha Oller




A
         deli, made-to-order sand-
          wiches and freshly brewed
           coffee since 1965. Whole-
            bean coffee sold for the past
             15 years, and a decade of
offering coffee varietals. With such a
history, one might think White Hen
Pantry Inc.’s recent revamp of its food-
service program would be old hat for
the Oak Brook, Ill.-based retailer.
   Consider that of White Hen’s 213
locations, all but 18 are operated by




                                                                                                                                             Photos by John Kringas
franchisees, and the challenge comes
into focus. With a structure like this,
execution can get dicey on the intro-
duction of a coffee program, let alone
a toasted sandwich line complete with
new foodservice equipment and touch-
screen ordering kiosks, or a catering        HOT AND FRESH: Sarah Dukes, a 17-year employee of White Hen, gets a sandwich ready for
program averaging $200 per order.            toasting in a Lincoln Foodservice combination oven. The toasted-sandwich offering, introduced
                                             in November 2004, was designed to put White Hen in direct competition with QSRs and fast-
   “When you have corporate stores,you
                                             casuals such as Quiznos and Panera Bread.
have the ability to dictate what is done,”
says Steve Montgomery,president of b2b       able battle that White Hen is gunning           casual chains such as Quiznos, Pot-
Solutions LLC, Barrington, Ill.“In fran-     to win through new offerings and new            belly’s and Panera Bread, a fight for
chise organizations, you have to develop     technology.                                     which the company feels well suited.
programs that you can persuade people                                                           “Focus groups tell us we have a lot
are in their best interest to execute and    Heating Up Sales                                of credibility in terms of our fresh
execute well. … You’ve got to make it so     The foodservice assault began in the            cold-sandwich program, so if we were
the customer gets consistency across the     beverage aisle, with White Hen’s 2004           to roll out an oven-baked program,
network that they will expect.”              introduction of Polar Blends frozen             they’d certainly think that would be
   Add to the equation the chaos of          beverages in August. Then in October            of high quality and a good option,”
activity leading into the chain’s 40th       came the debut of the Eli’s Cheesecake          says Tom Romanello, director of mar-
anniversary this year: White Hen             Pick-Ups line of grab-and-go dessert            keting. “With all of the other options
changed hands from Clark Retail              bars that are tied to the retailer’s coffee     out there, we needed to do it to at least
Enterprises just last year and wrapped       and cappuccino.                                 stay in the game if not try and get
up a basic reimaging in January. All of         The newest push expands White                more market share.”
these factors have made the retailer’s       Hen’s traditional deli program with hot            White Hen tested the Hot & Fresh
latest foodservice revamp unusually          sandwiches and moves it into direct             oven-toasted sandwich program in six
ambitious and perilous, but it’s a siz-      competition with quick-serve and fast-          locations last November and Decem-


                                                                               S e p t e m b e r         2 0 0 5        CSP          73
  Organic Growth
     espite the hot and heavy attention White Hen Pantry Inc., Oak Brook, Ill., is
  D  investing in its foodservice program, it is trying not to develop tunnel vision,
  particularly as it applies to the center store.                                            sity.“We couldn’t be competitive in the
     “While we want to move more heavily into foodservice perishables, we have to            marketplace without offering a toasted
  remember that we’re still a c-store in the mind of customers,” says Tom Romanello,         breakfast sandwich, lunch and dinner
  marketing director. As such, the chain is attempting to revitalize its center store by     product,” says Anderson, an operator
  weeding out duplicate offerings and offering trendy new products, with organic             of one of the original test stores.“Peo-
  foods taking the lead.                                                                     ple are in the trend at the moment of
     At two of the company’s Chicago locations, White Hen has dedicated one full             having toasted subs.”
  freezer door to organic entrees and veggie burgers from market leaders such as                 One of Anderson’s locations that
  Amy’s Kitchen Inc. and Gardenburger Authentic Foods Co. In the dry-goods section,          recently introduced the program and
  half of an aisle has been reconfigured with natural and organic snacks from brands          had traditionally low sandwich sales
  such as Guiltless Gourmet and Pirate’s Booty.                                              has seen a double-digit increase since
     It’s a selection one might see in a Trader Joe’s, and that’s exactly the effect for     the roll-out, she says.
  which White Hen is going. “We see as the next big thing natural and organic, so
  we’re trying to look at what our stores need to look like to appeal to that customer,”     Reach Out and Touch
  says Romanello.                                                                            With the additional time required to
     For the new stores, this includes not only organic products but also cherry             toast the Hot & Fresh sandwiches, fran-
  laminate fixtures, and faux-marble and wood floors.                                          chisees do face an increased labor
     Introducing organic products has also required White Hen to make some hard              requirement; but they often need to
  decisions about other items it stocks. “We’ve had to look carefully at ACNielsen           make little if any changes, according to
  and our scan data—here’s what’s really selling so we can delete [items] from stores        Romanello. To help shoulder any addi-
  and not disappoint customers,” says Romanello.                                             tional burden, White Hen introduced
     According to Romanello, the frozen selection has done “very well” at the two            touch screens into six of its locations
  Chicago locations, and the snack section continues to be tweaked every quarter.            testing the toasted subs in December
  White Hen plans to expand organics to other stores as it examines the timing and           2004, and based on the favorable results,
  logistics of such a move.                                                                  began rolling them out to all Hot &
                                                                                             Fresh locations this past February.
                                                                                                Manufactured by Javelin, Fenton,
ber, and, encouraged by the results,          Fresh introduction has helped increase         Mo., and running on software from
rolled it out to more than 130 locations      sandwich sales by double digits for            AccoladePOS, Centreville,Va., the touch
as of press time. The line includes 12        many participants, and that some stores        screens are set up two to a store to the
toasted varieties, such as ham and            have enjoyed correlating increases in          side of the cashier and foodservice area.
cheese, roast beef and a pizza sub, made      categories such as salty snacks, foun-         From there, customers can order cus-
on a roll or as a wrap with a choice of       tain drinks and single-serve beverages.        tomized sandwiches, deli products or
six condiments. Each approximately               According to Terry Anderson, a              Polar Blends; the system also sugges-
6-inch sandwich retails for $3.79 (a          15-year franchisee who owns two                tive-sells combo meals. A receipt prints
Quiznos sub of comparable size starts         White Hen stores in Glenview and one           for the customer to take to the cashier,
at around $4.99).                             in Evanston, Ill., the toasted-sandwich        while the order is sent electronically to
   Orders are prepared in Lincoln             offering is not just a nice alternative for    the sandwich prep station.
Foodservice Dual Technology Finisher          customers but also a competitive neces-           Anderson says the touch screens do
(DTF) ovens from Enodis, New Port
Richey, Fla., which use air-impinge-          “In franchise organizations, you have to develop programs
ment and infrared technologies to rap-         that you can persuade people are in their best interest to
idly toast the sandwiches.
   Although he declined to cite a spe-         execute and execute well.”
cific figure, Romanello says the Hot &                                                        STEVE MONTGOMERY b2b Solutions LLC


74       CSP         S e p t e m b e r        2 0 0 5
                                                                                             appearance and operational matters.
                                                                                                Lagging franchisees are put on
                                                                                             notice and receive support from the
                                                                                             “mother Hen.” On the flip side, those
                                                                                             that consistently score high on cus-
                                                                                             tomer service, program execution,
                                                                                             housekeeping and sales join White
                                                                                             Hen’s President Circle and are awarded
                                                                                             with a long weekend trip to an exotic
                                                                                             locale. They also become eligible for
                                                                                             other opportunities to make some
                                                                                             additional money.

                                                                                             Cater to Please
                                                                                             One of these opportunities is catering.
TOUCH DOWN: Touch-screen ordering kiosks made their debut along with White Hen’s             Launched last fall, White Hen’s On The
Hot & Fresh sandwich line. Customer Katrina Kowalke places her order at the touch screen,    Fly! catering program formalized what
customizing her sandwich and choosing add-ons. A receipt is printed and the order is then
                                                                                             for many franchisees what was already
sent electronically to the sandwich prep station.
                                                                                             a profitable side business.
help her employees in order accuracy.           erate rollout of the toasted-sandwich            “We had party trays for 20-some
“At first I wasn’t a believer in it, but with    program and franchisee support. Par-         years, but in terms of peer catering, that
the variety of people we employ and             ticipating franchisees attend an off-site    started in earnest last October,” says
[their] handwriting, oftentimes the             program to learn its particulars, and        Romanello. The company hired Rain
order was not decipherable, so the              then a team of two corporate market-         Anderson as White Hen’s catering
touch screen is a big improvement on            ing reps visit each location and spend       manager (no relation to Terry Ander-
accuracy,” she says. Also,“people don’t         two days ensuring that equipment             son), who brought 15 years of experi-
have to wait while you’re talking to            installation and implementation goes         ence in catering and was charged with
someone.You can accommodate three               smoothly. This is tailed by a follow-up      developing the program, training fran-
to four people at the same time, which          visit one week and then one month later      chisees and marketing.
is great for moving the line.”                  to evaluate execution of the program.            “I met with the operations people
    During a recent visit by CSP to an              The chain also has a staff of 14 busi-   and franchisees to get a feel for what
older White Hen location, one of the            ness development counselors who visit        would work best for their business,” says
two touch-screen systems was not able           all franchisees two to three times per       Rain.“I developed a catering menu uti-
to print receipts and the sandwich was          month to evaluate how well they are          lizing all of the products and services
not prepared with all of the requested          sticking to the White Hen retail script      they already had in the store, so it was
condiments, suggesting that the chain           and, in particular, the perishable presen-   just a matter of using the same things,
has at least a few kinks to work out.           tation—deli, bakery, soups, salads, fresh    and then attaching premium retail to
    White Hen is attempting to achieve          entrées, packaged sandwiches and cof-        them and selling it to the public.”
consistency chainwide through a delib-          fee.They also rate customer service,store        The catering menu includes break-
                                                                                             fast trays of bagels and muffins, cold
“We couldn’t be competitive in the marketplace                                               Pantry Select sandwiches, box lunches,
 without offering a toasted breakfast sandwich,                                              salads, chips and candy, beverages and
                                                                                             dessert bars. White Hen also designed
 lunch and dinner product.”                                                                  packaging for easy preparation of
                                               TERRY ANDERSON White Hen franchisee           orders and an attractive presentation.

76        CSP         S e p t e m b e r         2 0 0 5
   Fifty-five locations are currently par-
ticipating in the program with
24 poised to go active, and an ultimate
goal of 100 catering sites. To partici-
pate, franchisees have to be in what the
company considers a good market area;
the bread and butter of the program is
business lunches, sit-down and on-the-
go. Participants must also have a good
record of compliance with other White
Hen programs, attend a training class
and participate in local store market-
ing campaigns.
   It also adds a labor component.
Although a call center manned by Rain
handles much of the administrative          ORGANIC OPTIONS: White Hen has introduced organic products at two of its newer Chicago
work, franchisees must prepare and          locations in an attempt to revitalize the center store and tap into the healthy market. A half-aisle
deliver the orders. This requires a         dry-goods section, placed opposite the coffee bar, features packaged beverage, candy and
degree of planning so that catering         snack offerings from top-selling brands such as Oregon Chai and Amy’s, while a full freezer
doesn’t compete with store business for     door displays organic entrees and veggie burgers.
the franchisee’s attention.
   Terry Anderson arrived to the busi-      events such as golf outings.                       age around $200 while box lunches for
ness with a hotel background, while her        She is also the most successful of              80 can bring in around $800.
husband brought restaurant experience,      White Hen’s caterers, says Rain, and                  Although juggling this additional
a pedigree that helped them jump into       averages a minimum of five orders a                 business requires some planning
catering 15 years ago. She began the        week. Lunches vary from a simple                   ahead, it is actually easier to execute
business with mostly social catering for    school lunch for $5.99 to a more elab-             than some in-store orders, Terry says.
neighbors and local customers, but with     orate meal of around $10 per person.               “It’s a preorder vs. a busload of kids
the introduction of the formal program,     Although the dollar size of Terry’s                who rush into your store and you have
has branched out to larger business         orders varies, residential orders aver-            to help them on the spot,” she says.
                                                                                               “With catering, all is preordered, so I
                                                                                               can have staff come in at 5 a.m. and
                                                                                               start preparing it.”
                                                                                                  Catering currently contributes 1.5%
                                                                                               toward Terry’s overall sales; her ulti-
                                                                                               mate goal is 5%. Most participants are
                                                                                               projected to earn 0.5% of total sales
                                                                                               through catering during the first year,
                                                                                               and by year three, 2% of total sales.
                                            MODEL MEAL REPLACEMENT: Premade,                      The program’s contribution to
                                            unfrozen entrees from Last Minute Gourmet          White Hen’s overall corporate sales is
                                            are targeted at customers who might
                                                                                               “a very small percentage,” says
                                            otherwise pick up dinner at a casual-dining
                                            restaurant. In the newest stores, the meals        Romanello, but one the chain hopes
                                            are merchandised in open-air coolers along         to grow as more franchisees join
                                            with prepackaged salads and sandwiches.            the program.

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Replace and Retrofit                      meal replacement with the introduc-    chicken, penne with vodka sauce and,
White Hen’s foodservice assault isn’t    tion of Last Minute Gourmet premade,   most recently, microwaveable baked
limited to made-to-order and catering.   never-frozen entrees from Gourmet      potatoes are among the 22 available
In January, the company advanced into    Kitchens Inc., Chicago. Lemon-herb     varieties. Franchisees typically stock
                                                                                around 10 per store, and the entrees sell
                                                                                for around $4.99 each.
                                                                                    The target is anyone who wants to
                                                                                avoid the hassle of meal prep.“As every-
                                                                                one is more time-starved, and really
                                                                                don’t feel like spending a lot of time on
                                                                                food preparation, I think it’s the per-
                                                                                son who might go to some casual din-
                                                                                ing place,” Romanello says.
                                                                                    Franchisee Anderson says the take-
                                                                                home meals are popular with seniors,
                                                                                and her most successful location sells
                                                                                around $200 worth of the items a week.
                                                                                She notes, however, that the meals sell
                                                                                best in those locations that have new
                                                                                open-ended cooler cabinets, a relation-
                                                                                ship she finds somewhat irksome.
                                                                                “There’s frustration of moving into
                                                                                foodservice so quickly without having
                                                                                enough of the right equipment where
                                                                                we need it to be,” she says.
                                                                                    According to Romanello, the open-
                                                                                air cooler cabinets are part of a remod-
                                                                                eling effort at White Hen’s newer stores,
                                                                                and the company would eventually like
                                                                                to add them to all locations for their
                                                                                potential to increase deli, prepackaged-
                                                                                meal and salads sales. However, this
                                                                                year’s capital investment is wrapped up
                                                                                in the toasted-sandwich offering.
                                                                                    For White Hen, slow but steady is its
                                                                                strategy to improve. For franchisee
                                                                                Anderson, the journey toward a pri-
                                                                                mary foodservice focus has been filled
                                                                                with anxious anticipation. “It’s really
                                                                                fun to be in this beginning stage of a
                                                                                new kind of company—I thought we
                                                                                should have been there 15 years ago,
                                                                                but for whatever reason, I was the only
                                                                                one on that sailboat,” she says.“I totally
                                                                                believe that’s where we need to be.” I

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