Spar Milford Haven roast

This article is part of our Franchise & Fascia Groups Report 2015.

More and more c-store operators are using hot food to cement a point of difference. And they’re not simpy putting a sandwich toaster or microwave in a corner of the store; increasingly retailers are selling jacket potatoes, curries and even carvery lunches to hungry punters. 

“Consumer demand for eat now food on the move is driving development,” says Andrew King, franchise director at One Stop, pointing to Jinx Hundal’s One Stop store in Norwich South as a prime example of how to do hot food right. 

The franchisee began offering food to go before joining One Stop, and has gone on to become a highly regarded member of the estate serving up a carvery lunch as well as homemade salads and jacket potatoes. “Jinx offers a wide range of hot food, which differentiates him from his local competition and makes his store a destination for the food to go customer,” adds King. 

He’s not alone. Costcutter operator Baz Jethwa says expanding into hot food has driven significant growth since the expansion of his Bolton store, where he regularly serves up dishes of the day, such as curry, shepherd’s pie and lasagne. “Hot food is one of our most successful areas,” he says. “We offer food throughout the day, from breakfast right through to evening. On pastries alone we sell about 2,500 a week.”

One Milford Haven Spar retailer is even beating pubs and restaurants at their own game with its weekly Sunday lunch offering. “We’ve been so successful, even winning ‘best Sunday lunch’ in Pembrokeshire last year,” says retailer Chris Ward, who has been serving up food to go from his 3,000 sq. ft. store for the past few years. “Everyone now tries to copy us. Most of the local pubs are now offering takeaway services, one even delivers. But, we continue to serve up between 80 and 120 every Sunday.”

The store now offers a rotation of beef, pork and turkey available to eat now or takeaway and heat up at home as well as deals on dessert and wine accompaniments. The service caters mainly to OAPs, families and those working on Sundays, says Ward, who adds that the biggest challenge for any retailer looking to broaden its offer with food to go is with food safety regulations.

“We asked the local environmental health department to assist us as there really is no point in guessing only to be told it’s wrong and to change everything,” he says. ”Because of that we have some really robust systems and procedures in place and even scored a five in our recent Scores on the Doors examination from the EHO.”

Of course ensuring a business is compliant costs money, says One Stop’s King, so being certain there’s a decent return on any investment is crucial. ”Before moving into hot food, retailers need to think carefully about whether it will add value and ensure that it doesn’t compromise their core business, by losing too much space or being too complex to run. They also need to consider who’s going to own it within their team and, most importantly of all, to ensure that they’re aware of and complying with all relevant legislation.”