Chuck Robinson, Media Watch
Chuck Robinson, Media Watch

Mention the world’s largest retailer Wal-Mart — Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart — in your story and online you will likely be flooded by clicks and page views.

Strange, then, that mentioning the world’s largest convenience store chain doesn’t attract the same tsunami of clicks.

Even so, people in the fresh produce industry should pay attention to what is going on at 7-Eleven.

Back in 2004, The Packer reported Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc. was aiming to segue from Slurpees to salads.

Then in 2005, Tokyo-based Seven-Eleven Japan Co. Ltd. went from being a majority owner of the U.S. convenience store chain to owning all of it. The Packer reported then that 40% of 7-Eleven’s sales in Japan were derived from fresh food, including produce, while in the U.S. that figure was a mere 10%.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise that the Japanese parent company had ideas to increase U.S. fresh food sales.

In 2008, 7-Eleven added Jazz apples, and in 2009 the convenience store chain began offering Del Monte’s wrapped, single-finger bananas.

In 2012, the company announced it was getting serious about offering more fresh food.

That was the same year Kelly Buckley came on board as vice president of fresh food innovation.

Fresh face

She brought with her 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry and had been chief food innovation officer for four years at Plano, Texas-based Pizza Hut. She also has served tours of duty at Burger King, Yum Restaurants International and Applebee’s.

Last year, 7-Eleven offered a berry salad in the spring and summer and a bacon, lettuce and tomato salad in the fall.

They also beefed up their sandwich lineup with the steakhouse roast beef sandwich with blue cheese crumbles, mayonnaise, baby spinach and tomatoes on marble rye bread. It is the baby spinach that classes it up.

What’s a company with more than 9,000 stores in the U.S. gotta do for some respect?

I feel like 7-Eleven is stealing the thunder of chains such as the East Coast’s Wawa Inc., Chester Heights, Pa., which was decades ahead of 7-Eleven and others as far as its fresh food offerings were concerned.

In the Midwest, Tulsa, Okla.-based QuikTrip sets the bar pretty high with its fresh offerings.

Yet once an idea is out there, it can be anyone’s idea. When a behemoth like 7-Eleven latches on to the concept, watch out.

Hasn’t Wal-Mart done the same thing, latching onto ideas tested by others but making a greater difference because of its sheer size? 7-Eleven is looking for more ideas too.

“We need to be looking broader in terms of what are our future offerings going to be to grow our business and play to our strengths,” Buckley told the Chicago Tribune in mid-January.

Doesn’t sound like 7-Eleven is done.

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