A Celebrity Chef’s Creative Ways to Elevate Foodservice

Chef Andrew Zimmern talks simple upgrades to food offerings that will impress customers.

A Celebrity Chef’s Creative Ways to Elevate Foodservice

May 2024   minute read

Commanding 26% of sales and 35% of profits in 2022, foodservice is the biggest category in the convenience industry.

To elevate its foodservice products, Team Modern, a wholesale and inventory distribution business for c-stores, partnered with award-winning TV host and chef Andrew Zimmern. On a recent episode of the NACS Convenience Matters podcast, Zimmern talked about how he’s inspiring convenience retailers to rethink their foodservice offerings.

NACS: When you heard about this opportunity, how did you look at doing foodservice in a different way than in a traditional kitchen?

Zimmern: I’m a traveler—I spend two weeks at a time driving around in a van shooting shows in the U.S. I love stopping at convenience stores because if you get off the main road, the regional foods that you’re able to taste in these convenience stores are equal to or better than anything that you’ll find anywhere else. Gas stations now offer so much more.

The trend has been to see how we can take the most popular items from our food culture that we know consumers love—burgers, fried chicken, burritos and pizza—and make them a value add to what we’re already doing. C-stores adding breakfast pizzas 15 years ago is a great example of this really smart idea. Or as a consumer, when I’m in the Southwest, I don’t want a plain hamburger. I want one with hatch chilies on it. So how does somebody who has two burners, a griddle and a different cook every day make simple changes to their menu that engage customers in a more personal way?

For these smaller companies, I am helping jumpstart that creative process for them. After doing three chicken tender sandwich demos, I don’t care if any of those vendors put those examples in their stores. What I care about is that they upgrade their chicken sandwich offerings for their customers. It’s very fulfilling for me as a culinarian to be able to put these simple ideas in front of people knowing that they can use them and it’s going to make a difference in their lives, and more importantly, in their business, which means in their communities. I’d love to see these stores be competitive and do so at a price that everyone can afford.

NACS: And when you’re a retailer, you have to do this all in a small space and do it fast. What has been the feedback on whether people can do this in a small kitchen?

Zimmern: As an example, recently at the Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival, we cooked our version of Choripán, an Argentinian street food, in our booth for thousands of people. It was a grilled sausage sandwich topped with peppers, cheese, herbs and relish. We had store-bought hot red relish and sweet red relish that we mixed together in gallon containers. We did not make it from scratch, I just combined existing elements and offered people something new, but something that was familiar at the same time. Who doesn’t love a grilled sausage sandwich? If you can differentiate yourself and build a reputation as the place with the Argentine sausage sandwich that everyone talks about, for example, that’s where I’d like stores to get to. It’s a story and an experience for consumers, and that’s what drives everything.

NACS: Working in the food community and talking to people about how to elevate things, how do you nudge consumers to change behavior?

Zimmern: You’re not going to move someone a mile. But if someone’s doctor is telling them to mix in a salad every once in a while, but they love fried chicken … then give them a fried chicken salad. It allows people to mix in more fresh vegetables. Science and technology have allowed lettuce to stay fresher in bags longer, there’s less cutting and you can buy really good salad dressings from foodservice companies. There are so many ways people can be helped even with limited product, so if you’re only selling five or six a day, no problem. You will grow to sell more as people realize that it’s not only good for you but tastes really great as well.

You can do this with packaged snacks too—those little three packs of salami-wrapped cheese fly off the shelves. And the reason is someone’s spouse or doctor told them to slow down on the carbs, and this is a super easy pick-me-up snack that’s just protein and dairy. I buy them myself when I’m in a convenience store. These are the simple little changes we can make to help improve everything.

This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity. To hear the whole conversation, listen to at Convenience Matters episode 433—How Celebrity Chef Andrew Zimmern is Changing C-Store Foodservice.

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