Vip Panchmatia and Steve Jones are doing a roaring trade in hot snacks in their stores. Lindsay Sharman caught up with them, and some leading suppliers, to discover some success secrets for this category

With consumers shopping the food-to-go category 2.5 times per week on average and 56% of shoppers using convenience stores to buy lunch, hot snacks is a lucrative category for independent retailers.

Retail communications manager for Cuisine de France, Laura Smith, says: “Stocking a range of hot snacks can be a great revenue driver for retailers as busy consumers are now turning to convenience outlets for hot food to go.”

For some retailers, success means a huge in-store bakery, but for others it can be simply having a microwave on the premises to offer a range of hot snack options to customers at key times of the day. And whatever size range a store contains, the range of products on offer to retailers continues to develop by the day.

Flavour variety is a key category trend, according to Cuisine de France. The brand is tapping into the growing demand for Caribbean food and recently launched a range of Levi Roots pasties, available in both chicken and beef.

It’s a similar story at Unilever, where spicy and hot Pot Noodle varieties are becoming increasingly popular. The brand launched Pot Noodle Chilli Beef in March, which joined 11 other flavours, including Sweet & Spicy and Bombay Bad Boy.

Brand manager for Pot Noodle, Kate Mitchell says: “Pot Noodle taps into this trend and is ideal for consumers who are taking a packed lunch to work or want a quick snack with a tasty flavour.”

5 Steps to Hot Snacks Success

  1. Stock a mixture of old favourites and launches to keep customers interested.
  2. Make sure the hot snacks fixture is easy to find and well presented –use supplier planograms for best results.
  3. Use PoS and other graphics to highlight the fixture and draw attention to deals.
  4. Multibuys and meal deals such as a hot snack and a soft drink offer shoppers value for money.
  5. Make sure staff members are trained regularly – so they have the skills to deliver the best products and service.

Source: Cuisine de France

Ginsters’ latest launch, the stuffed sub, also taps into this trend. Stuffed subs are made with softly baked bread dough with a variety of fillings, two of which are spicy: Chicken Tikka, Spicy Meatball and All Day Breakfast. They are designed to be eaten hot and take just 90 seconds to cook in a microwave.

Andy Valentine, head of brand marketing for Ginsters, says: “We think the spicy flavours will provide retailers with products that genuinely resonate with their customers.”

Demand for a less exotic hot snack is just as important. Cuisine de France’s new Smokey Bacon Sausage Roll and Corned Beef Slice has been designed to cater for more traditional British tastes. The brand also offers a wider range of savoury favourites such as pasties, sausage rolls, slices and pizza breads, along with more adventurous options like the Indian Vegetable Slice or the Hot Dog Baguette.

Buying food that can be eaten later for lunch is another category trend, driven by the economic climate, according to Unilever.

“The decline in economic confidence has prompted a return to the lunchbox and the amount of lunches we’re eating at home has increased by 3% over the last three years,” says Kate Mitchel

Vip Panchmatia

vipVip Panchmatia owns a 1,400sq ft convenience store in Andover. The store is located on an urban through road, just off the A303, which means traffic going in and out of the town will pass the store.

Vip added a hot snacks range two years ago after extending the store, and so far it has been a huge success. The offering is relatively simple. Working with Bake & Bite, he sells tea and coffee, a range of breakfast foods such as muffins, doughnuts, bacon sandwiches, and breakfast turnovers.

Offering value for money is how Vip differentiates himself from the likes of Starbucks or Costa Coffee, keeping prices low and running promotions.

“We sell a range of coffees for £1.20 and we have a breakfast deal – a coffee or tea with a muffin or a doughnut for £2,” he says.

The store now makes £200 a week from hot snacks with sales coming from a mixture of new and existing customers.

Understanding his demographic is also an important factor in the success of the hot snacks category in his store. Vip says the majority of his customers want pasties or pies, as opposed to healthier options.

“Most of my hot snacks customers are ‘white van men’ who want ‘proper food’,” he says.

Another tip from Vip is to use the outside of the store to promote hot snacks. He uses window displays and a banner to catch the attention of passing trade.

Vip is considering extending the category even further, and says once sales hit his target of £300 a week he will look at other options.

“We’re open until 10pm so offering takeaway pizza would be a good way to sell hot snacks to local residents,” he says.

Steve Jones

steve-jonesHot snacks have become one of the most successful parts of the business for retailer Steve Jones. The Fountain Shop, a Premier store in Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales, has a large Bake & Bite unit at the back of the store.

As well as the usual pasties and rolls, Steve sells popcorn chicken, which has proven hugely successful.

“We sell 70-100 popcorn chicken baguettes a day,” he says.

Steve began selling the popcorn chicken three years ago when he extended the Bake & Bite unit. He invested £80,000 in revamping it, and hot food now makes between £5-£6,000 a week and represents 12% of his overall sales. It’s also a huge footfall driver.

“Customers come here specifically to buy hot food and they often leave having bought something else as well,” says Steve.

“The flow of the store is really important. Shoppers walk to the back to get the food and then back again to the till so they often pick up a soft drink or a chocolate bar too.”

Steve does 22 standard lines of baguettes and customers can also choose their own fillings.

“It is a labour intensive part of the business, there’s a lot of preparation and cleaning down, as well as training staff and complying with health and safety, but it’s worth it,” he says.