Traditional campus c-stores are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Many college operators are adding hot food components to create convenience store hybrids that offer a diverse product mix. FSD spoke to four colleges about what’s hot in this changing c-store landscape.
Miami University Oxford, Ohio
C-store snapshot: Six c-stores or “markets;” about 28% of campus-wide sales
Notes: The newest market at the 16,400-student university is Dividend$, a 3,600-square-foot convenience hybrid located at the new School of Business. Mike Mitroi, associate director for dining and culinary support services, says the location, which staff refer to as an emporium, features five stations: the Asian Market (sushi, dim sum) Traders' Greens (made-to-order and pre-made salads), Panini Portfolio, Fiscal Grind (coffee and baked goods) and Preferred Stock (fresh soups). The implementation of these concepts demanded some innovative systems to make things run smoothly.
“We opened knowing we would have a tremendous volume in that building,” Mitroi says. “So we created some efficient systems to combat that volume. The main one is that everything that is purchased has a barcode. In a couple of these concepts the menus were very complicated so we had to come up with a way to account for that with an accumulated barcode for the concept. For example, the Asian market has many different items at different prices. When a student goes to that concept, they can order any combination of items and we produce a barcode right there that is for that order. Whatever combination they select, it will put together one barcode so that when they go through the cashier line, they only have to swipe one barcode.”
This intricate barcode system is used at the Asian Market and Fiscal Grind. Mitroi says the other concepts have simpler menus so the department is able to use pre-printed barcodes and affix them to the items in advance. Mitroi stresses that the location could not handle the volume they do without this system in place.
“[The location] pushes through about 1,700 people a day, and we’re doing just under $10,000 in sales a day.”
As for the convenience items in the store, Dividend$ is heavily food focused. There are no personal care items at the location. Dividend$ focuses on bagged snacks, granola bars, fresh fruit and bottled beverages. There is also a grab-and-go line called Uncle Phil’s Express that is prepared in a central facility.
Elsewhere on campus, the largest c-store is Market Street at McCracken, which Mitroi says has a tremendous variety of frozen entrées, fresh fruit and vegetables.
“We also sell the Uncle Phil’s Express there and we do some custom retail packaging from our bakeshop, including breads, muffins and cupcakes,” Mitroi says. “We also carry a pretty extensive line of grocery items—anything from spaghetti sauce to cereal to soup. These locations do well. The one in the student center does about $2 million in sales a year. McCracken does about $2.6 million in sales a year.”
What’s hot?: Mitroi says they’ve added specialty ice cream selections from Young’s Dairy in Yellow Springs, Ohio, that have been very popular. “It’s made by a local company, which is owned by a Miami alum. The ice cream is sold in bulk at our specialty shop, Tuffy’s, in our student center. Across the hall from Tuffy’s is the Spring Street Market where students or guests can purchase pints of their favorite flavors.”
Other new items at the Market Street at McCracken operation include dipping and cooking oils from The Little Dipper Company, also owned by a Miami alum. “This line features oils infused with locally grown herbs,” Mitroi says. “The oils are popular for dipping bread or vegetables or for cooking. The Little Dipper Company also specializes in bread mixes, pastas and gift boxes of its products.”
The department has also partnered with Jungle Jim’s International Market in Fairfield, Ohio, which has helped increase the percentage of ethnic foods offered in the past year.
“Jungle Jim’s is a unique specialty supermarket that enjoys a national reputation for its enormous selection and its ability to stock exotic produce and specialty foods,” Mitroi says. “We have seen an increase in international students on our campus and we are trying to make some of their favorite foods available to them through our campus markets.”
Mitroi’s advice is to be realistic about a c-store’s purpose. “We like students to come in and take their meals in our dining centers, but we’re realistic that it doesn’t always fit into a student’s lifestyle,” Mitroi says. “I think the most important things to think about are location and making sure you strategically plan to make it convenient—it’s in the name. Survey your students and find out what they want and always be open to change. Be flexible and be quick to react to requests.”
Steal this idea: Another efficient system that has been implemented at Dividend$ is a self checkout called U-Scan. The location still employs student cashiers to cash people out, but these employees also monitor people going through the U-Scan. Mitroi says the self checkout has been very successful.
“I’d say about 80% of the students that go through the operation choose the U-Scan option,” Mitroi says. “Another great thing we’ve done is in several of our markets the management has implemented a blackboard where students can communicate requests.”as the first building block, they will surely build a strong pyramid.
Yale University New Haven, Conn.
C-store snapshot: 10 c-stores; 20% to 25% of campus-wide sales
Notes: At this 11,300-student university, Thomas Tucker, director of retail development and operations, says the department has several different types of c-stores. “We have the straight c-stores where there is a combination of convenience items, grab-and-go items and personal care items,” Tucker says. “Then we have what I’d call café-convenience hybrids, which are, in terms of trends, the kinds of stores that we want to develop more of. They have a combination of either made-to-order food platforms or platforms where food has been transported from other locations. These locations also have the previous inventory I mentioned—convenience items, personal care, beverages and snack items. Then there’s what I’ll call target stores that are more related to a single behavior. We have a small c-store/cart operation in a large athletic center. A lot of the focus there is on healthy beverages, protein and power bars—those sorts of things. We have another c-store that is all sustainable, local and organic and it is combined with a seasonal farmers’ market. The entire inventory in the store is natural, local, organic—it’s really geared to that product line. Another store like that we’re getting ready to open at the new health center will support a mission of being healthy with gluten-free products, whole fruit, etc. It will be kind of a mini Whole Foods Market.”
Tucker calls Durfee’s, Yale’s newest c-store, a sort of limited convenience hybrid. He says he learned quickly after coming to Yale, from California, that this market demands a hot food component. “We redesigned Durfee’s and in that process included TurboChef ovens,” Tucker says. “We offer french fries, Buffalo wings, chicken tenders, personal-pan pizzas and whole pizzas that are made locally. There are 11 fridge doors of beverages and about 12 feet of refrigerated grab and go that is transported from our catering department. That line offers about 12 different sandwiches and 12 different salads. Durfee’s is about 800 square feet and does about $50,000 in sales per week. This place rocks. We have some hours where we do almost 1,000 transactions.”
Another new item for the campus’s c-stores is microwavable meals. In order to add to the hot item profile, the department offers Annie’s Homegrown and Lean Cuisine frozen meals. The department is also gearing up for a c-store at a new health center that will change focus throughout the day.
“We stole the idea from B&I,” Tucker says. “In the morning you come in and the location is an elegant looking bakery. When you come back in the afternoon the store will be offering hot lunch entrées—be it mac and cheese or curry with rice—then later the location will focus on dessert items. The focus of the store is changing throughout the day. It should open in September, and I think it’s going to be successful.”
What’s hot?: Offering food at Durfee’s as a late-night option has become popular with students. With the economic downturn putting pressure on finding savings, the department eliminated off-campus equivalency options. To make up for these cuts, Yale Dining added the meal equivalency at Durfee’s. This summer Durfee’s will also bring in a new Moobella Ice Cream machine offering dozens of flavors on demand.
Steal this idea: “I think targeting the c-stores closely to the demographic profile—like at the all-local, sustainable location—in a neighborhood kind of concept is really successful,” Tucker says. “We try in a small amount of space to deliver this meal program together with convenience items. That sounds easy but it’s not. So the combination of those things—to put together an exciting targeted meal profile that can be supplemented with targeted convenience items—I think is the wave of the future. At that point you have become a destination.”
Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo.
C-store snapshot: Two c-stores or “express locations;” 9% of campus-wide sales
Notes: At 25,000-student Colorado State University, Dining Services offers two express locations, Ram’s Horn Express and Durrell Express—known as REX and DEX—which are located at the entrances of their respective dining centers on opposite ends of campus. Tosha Jupiter, marketing coordinator for Residential Dining Services, says each location is flanked by hot food options.
“Both locations serve hot food when their respective dining centers are closed,” Jupiter says. “They serve kind of basic sports grill fare such as pizza, hot wings, different types of chicken sandwiches, burgers and fries. We like to customize our options as much as we can so we also offer our namesake sandwich, the RamWich made with turkey, ham and provolone. Those are popular as well. The store also offers sushi, salads, smoothies, coffee and more.”
Jupiter says the stores host frequent on-site tastings by popular companies such as EVOL burritos and BING energy drinks. Additionally, the stores feature a wide variety of beverages, snacks and CSU gear including shirts, hoodies, water bottles and hats. Jupiter says having the locations attached to a dining center is a marketing benefit.
“Having the REX and DEX nicknames breeds familiarity,” Jupiter says. “It really builds the brand image. It feeds into our desire to customize to fit the CSU brand.”
What’s hot?: “We get a lot of our information about what’s new and trendy from our advisory council, which is a group of 14 students who represent each dining hall,” Jupiter says. “One of the things we’re most proud of in our c-stores is our biscotti, which is baked on campus. The latest and greatest thing that the kids are all over is Chester’s Puffcorn. It’s a cross between popcorn and Cheetos. Another big seller are those Trolli Sour Brite Crawlers gummi worms. Those fly off the shelves.”
Steal this idea: Jupiter says the express locations offer a “Main Plus 3” option that has been successful. “For the equivalency of one meal swipe, students can customize their order by choosing one ‘main’ option—usually a larger, more filling option—and three smaller ‘side’ items. The concept is a play on the popular ‘Meat and 3’ plate made popular in restaurants across the South. For example, a student can get a RamWich sandwich, a fountain drink, a bag of chips and an apple for one swipe. The main is usually something more substantial, like a sandwich, salad or smoothie. There are about 50 main choices and the side options are endless.”
Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va.
C-store snapshot: Four c-stores; 11% of sales campus wide
Notes: The campus’s newest c-store, Jonah’s, is not located on the main campus, says Mike Martin, foodservice director for Aramark at VCU. The c-store is located on the university’s medical campus, where Martin says they wanted to do something different to accommodate the needs of customers at that location.
“When you walk into Jonah’s we have a hot food area with a deli, grilled pizza and a made-to-order salad station,” Martin says. “The center island is the feature station where we serve home-style type food such as meatloaf, rotisserie chicken, etc. During the school year we offer about 12 to 14 entrées. Then we have veggies and starch. It’s really the centerpiece of the whole place. The items are in cold cases so when the students order an item from there we have TurboChef ovens that heat it up for them and we plate it. We also have a bakeshop there, which has been very popular. Our pastry chef makes between 12 to 15 items a day.”
Built around the hot food stations are all the typical c-store items, and on the back wall are refrigerated cases for beverages and frozen items. Martin says the store carries health and beauty aids, but the store is more focused on food, snacks and beverages. There are also microwave ovens available for anyone who wants to heat up a frozen meal. Martin says it was important to look to the outside for inspiration for the location.
“We went out to New York and went to different places, like Balducci’s and Dean and Deluca, just to see what they were doing. We asked ourselves, ‘How are we going to combine all these elements to create a great menu?’ My advice would be to think outside the box. I think that’s what we did here and what we will continue to do.”
What’s hot?: After unsuccessfully trying to sell organic foods elsewhere on campus, the department found a more stable home for them at the c-stores, Martin says.
“We dabbled with organic products on the main campus and they didn’t do well. They’re doing better at Jonah’s. We offer pre-packaged items like Annie’s Homegrown items and soups. We also sell Boar’s Head deli meats by the pound. Boar’s Head had actually tried a new program here where we sold pre-packaged sliced meat, which has done well. Bringing the hot items into this location was a new thing and representative of where we want to go. We also started using a company called Panache that provides pre-packaged gourmet salads and sandwiches. We sell fresh produce in there as well when it’s in season. It can be a one-stop shop for customers.”
Steal this idea: “We have the whole line of Pepsi items,” Martin says. “Pepsi came out and merchandised the area for us. We do a lot of combos with beverages. For example, we’ll offer a two-liter bottle with a large pizza. We end up moving a lot of two-liters that way. We also run combos with 12-packs of sodas such as a 12-pack and a bag of chips and salsa for a combo price. We try that in all of our c-stores.”