LAVAL, Quebec - The Kwik-E-Mart of "The Simpsons" brought lots of laughs to viewers ï¿½" and lots of headaches to real convenience stores, the Globe and Mail reports. While the fictional characters complained about the quality of food at the Kwik-E-Mart, many convenience stores have worked hard to improve their fresh food selections.
"There is still a perception that weï¿½ï¿½re up against," said Laurie Smith, marketing and communications manager for 7-Eleven in Canada. "Itï¿½ï¿½s a challenge."
Convenience store have shifted their marketing to showcase their fresh food offerings. "People are in there anyway buying this or that. Now you have to convert them. Itï¿½ï¿½s not about getting them in the store, itï¿½ï¿½s about convincing them that, 'Hey, this may be my place for dinner,ï¿½ï¿½" said Richard George, who chairs the Department of Food Marketing at Saint Josephï¿½ï¿½s University.
7-Eleven displays its fresh cut fruit, sandwiches, sushi and veggie trays in refrigerated, open-air deli cases. "Fresh-food cues and visuals are really key to presenting that environment and awareness to our existing guests," said Smith.
Jeff Lenard, NACS spokesman, agreed. "Itï¿½ï¿½s not enough to put it there. You have to showcase it," he said.
In-store sampling also captures consumer interest. 7-Eleven has regular samplings scheduled to get customers to taste their fresh foods.
Some convenience stores have found success with fresh food while others are still facing challenges. "Thereï¿½ï¿½s a perception that food quality is questionable at convenience stores in general," said Martin Landry, an analyst with GMP Securities. "What convenience stores have to do is create a habit with their consumers."
Most retailers realize it will take some time to overcome years of negative publicity regarding convenience store food. "Itï¿½ï¿½ll be a 10-year overnight success," said Lenard. "Itï¿½ï¿½ll take some time."