Food and retail trends may come and go, but in our industry all roads tend to lead to one place: convenience.
Mark Walker, Vice President of Convenience Retail and Category Management, has noted this throughout his 22-year career with Aramark. “Consumers everywhere want what they want, when they want it, and as fast as they can get it,” he observes. “That hasn’t waned, only increased.”
Another traditional belief is that an organization should typically be of a certain size, in terms of both its physical space and customer population, to sustain a successful convenience store, coffee shop, or restaurant. We’re ready to challenge that conventional wisdom with customizable convenience.
This modular kit-of-parts system is designed for populations fewer than 1,000 guests with smaller-than-typical retail formats and can support almost any underserved location or food deserts. “With customizable convenience, we can adapt to serve guests in nearly any client space and still be financially viable,” Walker explains.
The blurring of the lines between restaurants, cafés, coffee shops, convenience retail, and food delivery have coalesced as the newest member of our Convenience and Coffee Retail lineup. And the industry is already taking notice: In July 2021, our customizable convenience portfolio was named Best Management Company Concept by Food Management magazine.
Walker shares how our customizable convenience offering came to be, and how we’re opening flexible and innovative convenience retail solutions for clients of all shapes and sizes to meet guests’ evolving needs.
Ripe for Convenience
High-quality retail experiences have historically eluded the smallest, most underserved, or most challenging of spaces. Customizable convenience addresses that very problem. It’s a simple, modular, and affordable convenience retail solution that can flex to footprints as small as 75 sq. ft. and populations as small as 200 people.
Still, we never could have predicted how timely this offering would be. As businesses bounce back from COVID-19 closures and restrictions, demand is sky-high for food concepts that can accommodate smaller sites and fewer guests. “As needs change and onsite populations shift, many clients are looking for an added amenity that is cost-effective, while offering the highest-quality food solutions for their guests,” shares Sales Strategy Director Lisa Heaney.
Customizable convenience allows our clients to select a format and customize with a variety of modules to streamline and elevate the guest experience.
Customizable convenience can help our clients keep pace with the times. For example, according to a recent McKinsey survey, nine out of 10 organizations expect to embrace a hybrid style of working in the wake of the pandemic. Many workers will be spending less time in the office and more time working remotely—but nevertheless, onsite food and beverage options remain an important ingredient for fostering loyalty and a sense of community in the workplace.
Meanwhile, lifestyles are rapidly changing as consumers continue to seek more variety, healthier food options, greater convenience, and seamless interactions. The most obvious implication is within business dining environments, but our customizable convenience solutions have application across all market segments.
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Years of quantitative research and qualitative client feedback led us to build customizable convenience around three carefully balanced pillars—what Walker calls the “three-legged stool.”
- Hot food options. Today’s consumers want access to a hot meal 24/7. Enter our Local Restaurant Row partners, who can provide on-trend, authentic dining experiences with a neighborhood feel. “We couldn’t make this work without them,” Walker stresses. Additionally, we have launched an expanded café menu with high-quality, full-serve menu selections covering all dayparts.
- Commissary. By leveraging our supplier partner relationships, we’re able to merchandise locations with a variety of freshly prepared food and beverage options, from take-home meals to produce to name-brand snacks.
- Technology. Our technology ties it all together, enabling the convenient, frictionless experiences that consumers have come to expect when dining out and eating on the go.
Convenience isn’t one-size-fits-all. Throughout the sales process, we help clients drill down to the right solution based on their audience demographics, available space, and budget. Other, less tangible factors come into play as well—such as organizational culture and the type of experience they wish to create for their guests.
As always, grasping the consumer mindset is key. “It’s a matter of digging in and understanding the consumer and where they are in their journey throughout the day. You learn great things when you pay attention to what they want,” Walker attests.
What’s innovative about the solution is that it allows clients to mix and match our proprietary menu offerings and technology platforms to suit their needs. Modular options include a wide variety of grab and go assortments, fresh hot meals, scalable coffee solutions, tempting bakery items, and an almost endless selection of snacks.
Are your employees craving gourmet coffee? Let’s build it in. Are they looking for grocery items to take home at the end of the day? Do they prefer self check-out? As long as the technical requirements are there—plumbing, electrical, internet access, and so on—we can make it happen. To date, we have more than 30 customizable convenience locations in development.
“We’ve organized a portfolio that outlines exactly what you need with space, staffing, and other variables, for it to work,” Walker adds.
The first customizable convenience solution debuted at a mortgage service provider in upstate Pennsylvania. With over 400 employees working flexible shifts, the client needed a 24/7 convenience solution with the ability to offer hot food during peak hours. We transformed what had previously been a traditional, oversized retail space with limited hours of operation into a high-tech food destination featuring Local Restaurant Row, grab and go items, snacks, beverages, and frozen meal options.
With both mobile and web ordering options available, employees can now spend less time in line and more time enjoying their breaks between calls and meetings. “The client was looking for something that was flexible and affordable, and we were able to deliver it,” Heaney says of the customizable convenience prototype, which opened in March 2021.
The café’s expanded hours are especially attractive to the client’s employees. Since their customizable convenience solution opened, 31% of transactions have taken place after peak hours, when the original café would have been closed. Having access to a variety of food and beverage options onsite, at any time of day, has increased employees’ satisfaction and productivity.
Making It Their OwnAs we developed customizable convenience, we knew clients wanted a simple, turn-key solution that still felt personalized. The solutions are designed to conserve costs without skimping on the personal touches that amplify the consumer experience.
Once our clients select the best format and modules to satisfy their food, beverage, and other retail needs, we encourage them to bring their brand to life. For example, they can name the location after their organization or in a way that creatively reflects their mission—whatever supports the experience they are working to create for guests.
Additionally, clients can tailor the preset neutral design palette by modifying trim colors throughout the space with their desired finishes. Finally, clients can select light or dark countertops to match the environment.
“The personalization is really important for many clients, and we love that,” says Walker.
Small Sites, Big ImpactSmall-format retailing may well be the wave of the future. With customizable convenience, we’re excited to welcome more clients, of all sizes, into our fold. Thanks to its adaptability, the process of choosing a food service solution is as convenient as the end result itself. And because customizable convenience is a kit-of-parts that can be built anywhere, the turnaround time can be as fast as our clients can prepare a space for us to activate.
“The solutions are simple, operations driven, and technology supported,” Walker shares. “I think that’s what really resonates with clients and consumers.”