(Sept. 10) If retailing success could be summed up in three words, it would be location, location, location for Jim Bayci, fran-chisee of a White Hen Pantry convenience store on Wacker Drive in the heart of Chicago.

It’s the store location that makes Bayci’s primary customer a business professional who’s grabbing breakfast or lunch to go. The 3,100-square-foot c-store sits below 35 stories of offices and next door to another 30-story office building.

The small outlet sells at least 500 pounds of bananas a week and in one week in July it sold 43 pounds of plums.

Bayci’s store is one of 240 White Hen Pantry Inc locations in Chicago owned by Clark Retail Enterprises Inc., Oak Brook, Ill. The company also operates 60 stores in Boston.

MEAL MENTALITY


Company officials don’t look at the chain through c-store lenses. “We’re working to position White Hen as a neighborhood deli. Fresh foods are a key part of that,” says Jim Richter, vice president of merchandising.

That focus drives the business plan toward meal solutions.

In its 35-year history, White Hen has developed a reputation for lunch sandwiches. But armed with the knowledge that the av-erage White Hen sells 500 cups of coffee a day, officials decided to add breakfast sandwiches this past year.

Bayci’s store sells about 125 breakfast sandwiches a day. “It’s been a good addition to the menu,” Richter says.

LUNCH TO GO

White Hen also has developed ways to expand lunch sales.

  • It added a variety of supplier-sourced entrée salads.

    Each store used to make its own salads, but time constraints and increased demand made it impossible to build that business. So now the stores use an airline food company, Flying Food Group, Chicago, which has a strong Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point program, Richter says.

    Dan Dehmlow, franchisee for the White Hen Pantry on Fulton Street in downtown Chicago, sells nearly 200 of the salads each week. Chicken Caesar salad is the No. 1 seller followed by trail mix salad, which features diced apples, walnuts, blue cheese and dried cranberries with poppy seed dressing, he says. The Southwestern salad combines lettuce with corn, white beans and chicken. The other two salads are hearty garden salad with ham, turkey and cheese and chicken teriyaki with smoked and grilled chicken slices on a bed of lettuce. The 14-ounce salads sell for $4.59 each.

    Salad deliveries arrive every other day, and the salads have a two-day shelf life. “The consistency is tremendous. I never find a salad that doesn’t look like it should,” Dehmlow says.


  • It bolstered its fresh-cut fruit.
    Individual stores previously prepared all their own fresh-cut fruit. Within the past year, White Hen contracted with Del Monte Fresh Produce NA Inc., Miami, to provide fresh-cut fruit for the stores.
    Dehmlow finds that customers are very impressed with Del Monte Gold pineapple chunks. Other containers feature canta-loupe, honeydew and grapes or watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew.
    While the fresh-cut is prepared at a Del Monte facility in Illinois, it is shipped to White Hen’s dairy partner to deliver to each store with the milk deliveries two or three times a week, Richter says.


  • It encourages franchisees to change the fresh-food displays according to the time of day.
    “We believe you have to have your store set and ready for the day part you’re in when it comes to fresh food. You need a dif-ferent look for breakfast. Then slide into the lunch business with a dominant deli presentation with meat and cheese sliced to order,” Richter says.
    Each morning, Bayci merchandises the breakfast sandwiches, fruit and regular sandwiches together for those who want to buy breakfast and lunch and not come out of their office again until 5 p.m., he says. For lunch, he takes the fruit out of a regular case and puts it on an ice display inside the front door so customers can’t miss it. Then he fills up the sandwich and salad case.


  • It developed its own combo meal program it calls “go withs.”
    A customer who buys a sandwich can get a Del Monte fruit container or an apple for 50 cents more, or they can get a 12-ounce cup of soup for $1 with a sandwich, Bayci says.
    Richter believes White Hen offers more choices in its “go with” option than fast-food chains offer with their combos. Cus-tomers can get deals on go-with chips, fruit, drinks and soup.



WHAT’S FOR DINNER

In the summer of 2001, White Hen conducted focus groups with some of its loyal shoppers. “We found that customers really trusted us for sandwiches and salads, milk and coffee. Those were our destination categories. … But customers told us they were not ready to embrace us for dinner yet. … They weren’t quite ready for us as a home-meal-replacement choice like Boston Mar-ket,” Richter says.

But that doesn’t mean White Hen won’t try. This fall they will begin assessing what customers want and begin slowly testing different entrees and side dishes using its suppliers, Richter says.

OUTSIDE THE WALLS

White Hen Pantry’s focus on meals expands beyond the store boundaries.

Last year the chain focused on fresh food, including sandwiches and produce, in a television advertising campaign. The theme of the commercial was “When you run out, run in to White Hen,” Richter says.

The chain followed up the television ads with item-and-price radio ads. One ad encouraged shoppers to come in for a sand-wich and receive a free fountain drink.

Finally, coupons focusing on White Hen’s fresh food were included in Chicago area newspapers.

White Hen also gets its name and fresh food before consumers through catering.

Dehmlow began focusing on corporate catering years ago from his other White Hen location on Chicago Avenue. He special-izes in box lunches and build-your-own sandwiches, he says.
He offers clients two types of box lunches. The working box is a cardboard box with a sandwich, chips, a piece of whole fruit, dessert and a canned drink. The upscale box has a black bottom and clamshell lid with a sandwich, salad, cut fruit or grapes, dessert and a canned beverage or bottled water.

Bayci has success with fruit trays for breakfast meetings within the office building above him. The trays feature cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple, grapes and sometimes kiwifruit and oranges. He usually prepares at least one each day for offices within 1½ blocks of the store, he says.

To encourage these orders, he goes out into the offices with sample trays. “We get more business by talking to people,” he says.