QuikTrip starts cooking with kitchens in stores

08/26/2014 1:00 AM

08/27/2014 3:05 PM

QuikTrip is hoping its new made-to-order menu will draw people who want to fill up their stomachs — whether or not their vehicles need fill-ups.

Currently, 46 of the 83 Kansas City area QuikTrips — including stores in Belton, Blue Springs, Bonner Springs, Gardner, Grandview, Harrisonville, Independence, North Kansas City, Kansas City, Lee’s Summit, Lenexa, Mission, Olathe, Overland Park, Raytown, Roeland Park and Shawnee — have the new QT Kitchens. The chain based in Tulsa, Okla., hopes to convert more area locations by the end of the year.

QT Kitchens offer a made-to-order menu that includes flatbreads, toasted sandwiches, personal pizzas, specialty coffee drinks, frozen lemonades, smoothies and ice cream.

Warren Solochek, vice president of client development for market researchers The NPD Group in Port Washington, N.Y., said three things are driving the “food forward” effort at convenience stores.

Convenience stores have historically been one of the largest outlets for cigarette sales — a very profitable segment. But those sales have dropped.

Convenience stores aren’t making as much money from gasoline sales. Bank card-swipe fees of 1 to 2 percent can add up on full-tank purchases.

Gasoline sales keep falling as people drive cars that are more fuel-efficient and put fewer miles on their odometers as gasoline prices go up.

Convenience stores “can’t rely on gas and cigs anymore,” Solochek said. “They have to make money somewhere, and they can make a real nice amount of profit on food service.”

Traditionally, convenience stores have seen strong food and drink sales in the morning as customers pick up cups of coffee, muffins and doughnuts. That puts them in competition with quick-serve operations like McDonald’s, Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Convenience stores’ expansive drink selections also draw people who want afternoon pickups.

Now more convenience stores are offering meal solutions — salads, sandwiches, pizza, burgers and fried chicken. Their challenge is to persuade people that there’s more quality to their menus than hot dogs that have been on the roller grill for hours, Solochek said.

“If you can change the perception and show that the quality is good, people are going to try it,” Solochek said.

The market is expected to continue to grow and become even more competitive. An East Coast chain, Sheetz, has found great success with a menu that is as broad as many restaurants: burritos, fried pickles, mozzarella sticks, jalapeno peppers, mac-n-cheese, flatbreads, hot and cold subs, buffalo chicken pizza, wraps, taco salads, chicken sandwiches and premium burgers.

QuikTrip’s menu, tweaked from customer feedback before the rollout, includes:

Toasted sandwiches: including Italian Three Cheese, American Bacon Cheddar and BLT with cheese.

Personal pizzas: pepperoni, cheese, supreme and build-your-own.

Soft pretzels: classic, Parmesan and cinnamon sugar.

Flatbreads: chicken, Bacon & Ranch, Spicy BBQ Steak and chicken quesadilla.

Kolaches: sausage, and bacon, egg & cheese.

Frozen treats: Twisters (soft-serve chocolate or vanilla ice cream blended with one free flavor like espresso or mix-ins like M&M’s), ice cream cones and shakes.

Specialty coffee drinks: including lattes, premium hot chocolate, frappe, espresso, premium blend coffee, mocha and cappuccino.

Real fruit smoothies: strawberry banana, mixed berry and mango peach.

Frozen lemonade: original strawberry and blueberry.

Shakes: chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.

Customers tap in their orders on a touchscreen at the QT Kitchen counter. It prints out receipts that customers take to the cash register while the kitchen employees make their orders.

The full QT Kitchen menu is available from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The evolution of QuikTrip

1958: First store opens in Tulsa, Okla.

1968: Expands to the Kansas City area, its first market outside the Tulsa area.

1971: Offers gasoline for the first time.

1973: Introduces self-serve fountain drinks.

1976: All stores open 24 hours a day.

2003: The 400th store opens in Tempe, Ariz.

2013: Launches the first QT Kitchen counter.

2014: The 700th store opens in June. It is now operating in 11 states and has annual sales of more than $10 billion

Source: QuikTrip

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