In the ever-evolving landscape of convenience stores, one culinary delight has taken center stage, captivating the taste buds of consumers and contributing significantly to the industry’s success: fried chicken.
As we delve into the recent trends and statistics surrounding the growth of c-store fried chicken programs, it becomes evident this crispy delight is not just a quick snack but a strategic move that is reshaping the landscape of c-store offerings.
Record-breaking sales for c-stores
2022 marked a milestone for the c-store industry, with record-breaking sales despite challenges faced by other foodservice verticals. Foodservice sales represented 25.6% of average monthly in-store sales and a whopping 36.1% of in-store gross margin for c-stores, according to the NACS (National Association of Convenience Stores) 2022 State of the Industry Report.
Additionally, retailers focusing on developing their foodservice offerings outperformed their peers, according to NACS. It’s clear c-stores are growing to be more than just gas stations and playing a bigger role in consumers’ lives, with fried chicken emerging at the top of those foodservice offerings.
Convenience store fried chicken programs gain a cult following
Fried chicken has transcended its humble origins to become a comfort food staple, with a rich history intertwined with cultural significance. As consumers seek not just convenience but also a comforting and familiar experience, fried chicken has emerged as a go-to choice. The succulent, crispy goodness of fried chicken has garnered a devoted following, making it an integral part of American culinary culture.
The rise of convenience store fried chicken programs is not merely a culinary phenomenon; it’s a cultural shift. Cult followings are growing around c-store fried chicken programs, creating a unique niche in the market.
You might be surprised to hear of this loyalty, but it’s more than just a simple transaction for fried chicken fanatics. Convenience store fried chicken programs create a shared experience among customers who appreciate the convenience, quality and distinct flavor profiles that these programs offer.
Take Royal Farms, for example, affectionately dubbed “RoFo” by its devotees. Critics rave about the “confusingly good fried chicken,” with Food & Wine going so far as to label it some of “the best fast-food fried chicken à la gas station.” The Washington Post has hailed it the second-best chain fried chicken after the renowned Popeyes.
The fried chicken at Spinx is so popular the brand launched a food truck in 2020, taking its cult following to the streets. “The Cluk Truck” visits communities across Upstate South Carolina and appears at area events and local breweries.
Others, like Kwik Trip, have entire Reddit threads dedicated to fans raving about its delicacies. You don’t have to look far to find evidence of c-store fried chicken cult followings.
Inside successful convenience store fried chicken programs
So what’s the secret sauce for c-store with cult foodservice followers? Is it the breading? The atmosphere? The convenience? From brands like 7-Eleven and Kwik Trip to Royal Farms and Champs, we did a deep dive into what all successful convenience store fried chicken programs had in common. Here’s what we found.
Beyond gas stations to culinary destinations
In recent years, c-stores have undergone a remarkable transformation, transcending their traditional role as mere pit stops for fuel. Those with successful fried chicken programs are leading the charge, striving to create a sense of belonging for travelers, providing a pleasant experience after a hard day or a long journey.
One key element contributing to this shift is the incorporation of high-quality fried chicken that goes beyond the ordinary. Take Spinx, for instance, a convenience store chain that has successfully integrated a unique culinary experience into its offerings. Spinx takes pride in serving fried chicken made from a cherished family recipe passed down from the founder and chairman’s “Aunt Pearl.” This personal touch not only elevates the taste but also adds a touch of homey comfort to the overall atmosphere.
Beyond the culinary delights, convenience stores with successful fried chicken programs are paying attention to the overall customer experience. Clean bathrooms and well-maintained amenities have become essential components of their strategy. Travelers are welcomed to not only satisfy their hunger but also to refresh themselves in a clean and inviting environment.
The overarching goal for these c-stores is to position themselves as destinations in their own right, where the sale of gas becomes secondary to the overall experience. By creating a welcoming atmosphere and offering culinary delights that resonate with a sense of home, these stores are transforming into places where customers want to linger.
The success of convenience stores with thriving fried chicken programs is indicative of a broader shift in consumer expectations. Travelers are no longer content with quick, impersonal stops; they seek destinations that offer a holistic experience. As c-stores continue to evolve, we can expect more emphasis on unique culinary offerings, a sense of community and a commitment to providing travelers with more than just a tank refill. The journey, it seems, has become just as important as the destination.
A focus on culinary excellence
Unlike the stereotype of fast food being synonymous with haste, successful convenience store fried chicken programs operate with meticulous culinary procedures. Chains like Kwik Trip and Parker’s boast full-fledged culinary programs, where the preparation of fried chicken is treated with the same attention to detail as a fine dining establishment.
One key aspect of their culinary prowess is the mastery of best use times. Staff at these establishments are well-versed in timing, ensuring the chicken in the hot case is at its peak freshness and flavor. This commitment to quality not only enhances the customer experience but also contributes to the distinctive taste that keeps patrons coming back for more.
The culinary excellence extends beyond the initial serving of fried chicken. Rather than letting surplus chicken go to waste, innovative programs repurpose it to create additional offerings. From chicken salad to chicken pot pies, these convenience stores showcase resourcefulness, turning every piece of chicken into an opportunity for culinary creativity.
Successful convenience store fried chicken programs often extend their culinary influence beyond the chicken aisle. Many chains pair their crispy offerings with onsite bakeries, offering freshly baked goods to complement the savory experience. Additionally, a commitment to sourcing local dairy products adds another layer of authenticity to the culinary journey.
Using the right foodservice equipment to focus on efficiency
While the enthusiasm for foodservice expansion is palpable, there are challenges to overcome. According to survey data, the top hurdles include staff turnover (58%), supply constraints on food (37%), and inflation on food (34%). Tackling these challenges is crucial for ensuring the sustained success of convenience store fried chicken programs — a task foodservice equipment can help solve.
Foodservice equipment plays a pivotal role in successful convenience store fried chicken programs, leveraging equipment to aid in efficiency, consistency and quality.
The ability to scale a fried chicken program to more stores is a challenge that successful brands like Krispy Krunchy Chicken (KKC) have conquered. One of the ways they achieve this is by strategically leveraging advanced foodservice equipment. KKC recently began integrating AyrKing food prep equipment into their program packages, helping operators enhance efficiency while ensuring a standardized and high-quality product.
AyrKing’s Breader Blender Sifter (BBS), for example, revolutionizes the standard breading procedure, reducing hand-sifting time by up to 80%. The BBS employs a sifter brush as an auger, ensuring even distribution of seasonings throughout the breading mixture. This not only enhances flavor consistency but also ejects unwanted doughballs, extending the life of breading mixtures and reducing ingredient costs by up to 40% — keeping overhead costs low for c-stores.
AyrKing’s DrumRoll Automatic Breading Machine takes automation to the next level, reducing the need for skilled labor and eliminating inconsistencies. The helix-shaped component gently tumbles the product, providing a consistent coating, reducing “blow-off” in the fryer, and extending fryer oil and breading life. This not only enhances the overall quality but also contributes to 25% faster production time, a crucial factor in the fast-paced c-store environment.
Consistency and quality are paramount to producing the kind of fried chicken that encourages a cult following. As the c-store industry continues to evolve, it’s clear the recipe for success lies in prioritizing equipment that enhances efficiency, consistency and, ultimately, the customer experience. To quote KKC’s slogan, “They may come for the gas, but they’ll come back for the chicken.”
The evolution of c-store foodservice offerings
Recognizing the potential of foodservice offerings as a primary growth driver, 70% of c-store leaders consider innovating their foodservice offerings a top priority for overall business growth, according to data from NACS. In fact, 87% of survey respondents reported significant investments (10% or more of total store investment) in foodservice expansion and innovation over the past few years, an overwhelming 91% have plans to continue this trend in the next two years.
The rise of convenience store fried chicken programs signifies more than just a shift in culinary trends; it reflects a broader transformation in consumer expectations and the evolution of c-stores into vibrant destinations. The success stories of brands like Royal Farms, Spinx, Kwik Trip and others highlight the importance of culinary excellence, a focus on customer experience and the right foodservice equipment.
As the c-store industry continues to embrace innovation and culinary creativity, AyrKing stands out as a key partner for those aspiring to elevate their fried chicken programs. With cutting-edge equipment, AyrKing enables operators to enhance efficiency, maintain consistency and deliver a high-quality product that keeps customers coming back for more.
To experience the transformative power of AyrKing’s food prep equipment and take your c-store offerings to the next level, explore how their solutions can contribute to the success of your fried chicken program.