“It’s the right moment for McLane to truly transform,” said Eric Hildenbrand, chief strategy officer for McLane Company. “We want to use the past to drive us forward.”
When it comes to McLane, that can be taken both figuratively and literally. With an origin story dating back to 1894, there are a lot of learnings to apply, and with one of the largest private fleets delivering to almost every U.S. zip code, that’s a lot of driving.
Eric Hildenbrand Chief Strategy Officer McLane
Vito Maurici Customer Experience Officer McLane
Farley Kaiser Senior Director Culinary innovation McLane
Jon Cox Vice President Retail Foodservice McLane
The corporate transformation now in play includes pushing even deeper into data management and data security, evolving digital solutions to drive the omnichannel experience, cementing customer relationships, building growth through strategic retail partnerships and re-envisioning McLane’s food program. “Things are developing quickly in the c-store industry,” Hildenbrand said. “We have set out to become more agile in meeting customer needs as we both go down this changing road together.”
There are a vast number of things happening on the technology side at McLane, including a sophisticated blockchain solution, greater visibility into the supply chain, expanding applications of machine learning and artificial intelligence—and a lot more analytics. “It’s a continuous transformation in these areas and we continue to invest in them,” Hildebrand said. “We will continue to leverage our insights to be a catalyst for our customers’ growth.”
The heart of the investment is understanding customers’ needs and any friction they may have. By operating at the nexus of partnership, trust, transparency, data and analytics, McLane becomes a catalyst for the success—and growth—of its partners.
Supply chain confidence may be the most top-of-mind friction point for many. “The pandemic taught us a lot and we won’t take those learnings and experiences for granted. Then and now, standing shoulder to shoulder with our customers and suppliers, we strive to deliver with operational excellence—ensuring the right product at the right time,” said Vito Maurici, customer experience officer for McLane. Maurici fills a new role, underscoring McLane’s commitment to serving its customers.
McLane continues to work in tandem and develop strategic partnerships with operators. Indeed, in recent years the company strengthened those relationships by adding in greater flexibility to meet customer needs. “Our customers have asked us to do some things differently, and we pivoted, leaned into change and continued to listen as their strategic partner for growth,” said Maurici. “At the core of our transformation is understanding and creating a superior customer experience. I think that we have only scratched the surface in our transformation of meeting customer needs and I am truly excited for what’s ahead.”
Reimagined: McLane Fresh
Designed with convenience stores in mind, McLane Fresh offers a robust selection of on-trend items, from coffee and tea, to commissary products like fresh sandwiches and salads, to meals for all parts of the day, as well as great tasting pizza. Retailers may also take advantage of equipment program bundles that greatly reduce barriers to entry. McLane’s foodservice portfolio includes:
This groundbreaking, proprietary freezer-to-oven pizza program (the name will be revealed at the NACS Show) is designed for any convenience store to implement efficiently and profitably. This turnkey solution meets retailers where they are on their foodservice journey, providing marketing support; merchandising; quality, competitively priced equipment bundles; and expert guidance.
McLane’s go-to program for grab-and-go features plenty of meals and snacks to satisfy every craving. This program offers high-quality produce and ingredients, plus an operationally efficient, robust commissary kitchen network to allow shorter timeline deliveries that maximize shelf life without compromising on freshness.
This brand-new line of artisanal coffees, refreshing teas and lemonades offers exciting new flavors and drink styles to bring real value and delight to retailers of every size. McLane sources the finest coffee beans and ingredients to bring retailers a wide range of on-trend items including nitro cold brew, cold brew coffee, SHOTT beverage flavor enhancers and the latest bean-to-cup technology.
Two critical elements McLane brings to the table for all customers: scale and trust. The company will draw from those strengths as it expands its narrative around foodservice. “We are experts at managing the supply chain to get our customers what they need. As consumer trends and customer needs evolve, as they have for fresh food, we are well positioned and prepared to execute with excellence in all areas of foodservice,” said Maurici.
McLane is prepared to meet convenience retailers wherever they are in their foodservice journey, whether that means a roller grill program or a more expansive offering like pizza. What’s right for one operator doesn’t have to be right for another.
“The program goes much further and deeper than just a menu,” said Farley Kaiser, senior director of culinary innovation at McLane and a classically trained chef. “We take a holistic approach, from vendors to the food supply side; we proactively take care of it all to meet the needs of operators.”
Menu development then becomes the fun part, and retailers will be welcome to participate via McLane’s upcoming new test kitchen. The aim of the space is to provide a place that is an extension of an individual retailer’s capabilities. “The test kitchen will be a place to dig in and uncover the solutions that work for different needs,” said Jon Cox, vice president of retail foodservice for McLane. “The beauty of it is that it’s practical. It reflects the c-store space and that makes it easy to see how a program could come to life in your store.”
The McLane foodservice team is already crafting recipes, narrowing down flavor profiles and testing different pieces of equipment as the process of perfecting the pizza program and the full McLane Fresh foodservice program continues to evolve. Retailers can use the test kitchen space for menu innovation, product sampling and program training elements.
“It’s a constant conversation about food here,” said Cox. “We want programs that are easy to execute and offer an end-to-end solution. We vetted the entire process, from purchasing pieces of equipment to helping retailers market their program—and even guiding them through quality assurance and food safety,” he said.
McLane’s proprietary pizza program—the brand name will be revealed at the NACS Show—will provide a turnkey program with the option for retailers to customize it and make it their own. With labor issues a concern for all operators today, the program is designed with ease of execution in mind. “Easy to execute is important, so that’s what we are providing,” said Kaiser. “Those who have enough volume may create their own brand; those in the early stages of developing a foodservice offering will take advantage of the McLane brand as they build success. The solution is here either way and we will help guide retailers in all directions.”
“We want to use this opportunity to help operators improve quality and enhance value in the food space and make a big impact in our industry,” Cox said.
Data-Driven Thought Leadership
Shivani Agarwal Vice President IT Infrastructure and Enterprise Services McLane
How can convenience retailers use data better?
To remain competitive and scale, companies must innovate to offer new and better products and services that differentiate them from others in the marketplace. This is where data can be leveraged to create or enhance products, services and experiences.
Data isn’t just about the history of what happened. The power comes from using data for predictive analytics to anticipate trends and customer demands. This allows retailers to make proactive decisions and keep the control of their business in their own hands. Leveraging data effectively can give retailers a competitive edge in an ever-evolving market.
McLane has a history of being on the forefront of data management. As omnichannel experiences redefine retail, how will that impact data management?
Omnichannel retail seamlessly integrates the various traditional channels, like physical stores, online platforms, mobile apps and social media, to provide customers with a unified shopping experience. This has considerable impact on data management.
Data from each channel needs to be integrated, consolidated and rationalized into a single 360-degree view of customer behavior, inventory, sales performance and other critical metrics so the business can have insight into the success criteria for each channel. From customers’ perspective, they expect their data (shopping history, loyalty points, preferences, billing information) to move with them as they switch between channels. Operators must keep the data in sync across each channel in real time so that the customers have a seamless experience.
Understanding the customer journey across multiple channels requires comprehensive data management. This is not a one-time exercise because customer behaviors change, and therefore the experience will have to evolve with them.
Data security is a critical issue today. Can you talk about where the convenience retailing sector falls short in this area?
Considerable improvement has been made in enhancing data security, but there is still a long way to go to cover significant ground. Payment security is one of the biggest areas of concern, as retailers process a large number of transactions (in-store or online). Convenience retailers must foster a culture of security awareness within the organization.
The employees of a business are increasingly the main way hackers find vulnerabilities in the systems and attack businesses. Some convenience retailers may lack comprehensive data protection policies and protocols. This includes inadequate employee training on data security, weak password management and insufficient access controls—all of which can create vulnerabilities in the system. Businesses must train their employees so that they are aware of and avoid being victims of phishing (attempting to gain business information such as passwords via email), vishing (phishing via voicemail or phone) and SMiShing (phishing done via text messages). This in turn will minimize the risk of cybercriminals attacking the business and/or exploiting customer financial information.