Alittle over two years since its launch, Cuisine de France's Cuisine to Go concept is now operating in more than 70 stores across the UK. Operations manager of the Londis Gwalia group John Pritchard is confident the decision to introduce the format in two of his group's North Wales stores - a
c-store in Bethesda and a forecourt business in Gwalia - is paying off. Plans are also in the pipeline to introduce the hot and cold food-to-go concept in a third business, a c-store in nearby Llanrug.
Londis Bethesda took on the concept in November last year, while the Gwalia forecourt offered its customers hot food to go for the first time in February. John says the store is already reaping the benefits, with increased sales of not just food to go but across all categories thanks to the increased footfall.
"At Bethesda we had a Bake & Bite offering from Country Choice, but we decided to change to Cuisine to Go as part of a refit," explains John. "We felt the imagery of Cuisine to Go would better suit the store's design. It was a marketing as much as a quality decision."
The Bethesda store now boasts both hot and cold self-serve sections, with a serve-over section in-between. At the forecourt, there's an additional hot self-serve fixture to cope with a higher footfall and demand for instant hot products.
John stresses the importance of planning ahead for any retailer looking to introduce or develop a food-to-go offering. "The experience of setting up the new counters made us very aware of the logistics of things," he says. "It was vital to have good interaction between ourselves, CDF and the fitters. It's also really important to properly organise when the likes of electricians and plumbers are in. It was a relatively painless process, though, and definitely worth it."
John says he's learnt that it's hard to be scientific about the food-to-go category and believes retailers have to be able to alter their offering on a day-by-day basis. "There's not always a pattern," he says. "There are products which we know sell well, such as our chicken kebabs, but often it's down to the individual members of staff working on the counter to judge how much they should prepare throughout the day to ensure there's a good variety."
John believes retailers have to accept that there will be a reasonable amount of wastage. "We generally allow for about 10% wastage," he says. "I'm pretty sure we'd miss out on a lot of sales if we didn't have the allowance as there would be empty shelves and too narrow a range for customers to choose from."
Both stores offer hot food from 7am until about 3-4pm, although John hasn't ruled out extending the selling period if demand exists. The busiest time of the day is, unsurprisingly, lunchtime, although there's also good trade in the mornings from builders in the area.
"We get a real mix of customers," he says. "The best and most regular customers are probably the local builders and travelling sales reps. The c-store also picks up a fair amount of trade from school children at lunchtimes. We've also found that Thursdays and Fridays can be very busy as at the end of the week fewer people make lunch at home."
Having previously offered no food to go, the forecourt business is now turning over a projected £100,000 a year in the category alone. "It's proved really popular," says John. "The changes we introduced meant we suffered a dip in our prepacked sandwich sales, but they are now climbing back up so it's all going to be incremental growth.
"Soon after we started offering food to go people began to ring in orders 30 minutes ahead. We've since decided to offer a formal ordering service, catering for a lot of businesses. It's a side which we didn't think about to start with."
John says the c-store is a little more parochial than the forecourt business and adds: "We probably know our c-store customers a little better. Staff will know that Mrs Jones, for example, will want a product well baked or two particular loaves kept to one side for a particular time. It's a real advantage we have over the multiples."
A number of products including savoury snacks and soft drinks are often purchased at the same time as food-to-go counter items, but John is careful not to go over the top when it comes to cross-merchandising.
"When we refurbished each store we changed from diagonal to linear aisles and changed a number of aisles in line with Londis planograms. We thought about where we would place items with the new bakery and food-to-go fixtures in mind. People will pick up other items to go with their selection, but it's important not to go overboard. I want everything to blend in."
John's staff are also big fans of the new concept. And it does no harm to sales for customers to see staff buying the goods. "My staff love the new offering," he says. "A lot used to bring in their own lunches, but now they'll often buy something from Cuisine to Go. Customers like it because it shows the staff have faith in what they are selling."
Customer faith in the products also comes from John's dedication to hygiene. All staff are put through food hygiene qualifications and taught that the quality and presentation of the products are paramount. "It's important that customers see we take it seriously. They will make a judgement as soon as they enter the store."
Looking ahead, the group's third store is due to be converted to the Cuisine to Go concept in the next couple of months. John's confident all of the stores have the potential to develop and that food to go will have a major role to play in that.
"We have a real opportunity to access a plethora of products. We may go on to offer soup or stews in the winter. Catering for the evening trade is another way to take things forward - it's easy to make adjustments depending on the season or time of day. While it might not be realistic for customers to be able to buy hot food at 10pm, with the summer evenings it's likely customers would expect to find something earlier in the evening."
John is very positive about the future of the category: "If trends continue, more people are going to pick up something to eat when they're out, rather than cooking at home. If retailers make sure their peak periods are catered for and that they are innovative at non-peak times by perhaps offering special deals, they can do very well."
Business: Gwalia Group
AVERAGE Store Size: 2,300sq ft
Food to go trading hours: 7am to 3-4pm
Best customers: local builders and travelling sales reps
Top Products: sausage/bacon baps, sausage rolls and iced doughnuts
Busiest days: Thursdays and Fridays
What's in the pipeline: soup or stews in the winter; catering for the early evening trade in the summer months