Convenience stores lack sanitation codes?

Convenience stores lack sanitation codes? – editorial

Charles Bernstein

Convenience stores lack sanitation codes?

Food-service operators of all types must meet rigid sanitation standards in city, suburban, and rural areas. Sinks, tile floors, and rest rooms are absolute requirements, among many other things.

It might seem unimaginable that competitors or various types of stores are not subject to the same regulations that apply to fastfood operators and every other restaurant under the sun. Yet it is a fact of life–not so much in cities as in outlying areas that could contain important markets.

For a long time fast feeders and other food-service operators chose to ignore convenience stores and to maintain that they are not really competition. But now it is obvious that food-service operators are recognizing the competitive aspects of convenience stores.

So much so that some fast feeders signed up to put units in convenience stores for added traffic opportunities–most notably, Hardee’s, Church’s, and Godfather’s Pizza. But they quickly became disillusioned, realized that convenience stores are not an automatic gold mine, and dropped the idea.

Dunkin’ Donuts and Winchell’s Donuts have installed counters at some convenience stores with moderate success. Burger King and a few double drive-thru chains are eyeing the possibility of hooking up with convenience stores.

What is commonly known as fast food accounts for almost $1 billion in sales at Dallas-based 7-Eleven stores, even after the departure a year ago of longtime food-service director Richard Reinhard to become president of Central Park U.S.A. double drive-thrus and a sellof of some 1,000 7-Elevens to help finance the huge debt of parent Southland Corp.’s management leveraged buyout.

If one subtracts an estimated $2 billion in 7-Eleven gasoline sales, fast food probably accounts for some 20 percent of the chain’s total volume in 7,200 stores. Although 7-Eleven’s own fast-food program, The Works, faltered, its deli sandwiches are prospering.

The No. 2 volume convenience store chain, Phoenix-based Circle K, is doing $300 million annual food-service sales in the 4,700 stores it operates following the purchase of some 500 7-Elevens. With an estimated $1.3 billion in gasoline sales subtracted, it is probably doing 15 percent of total volume in fastfood and food-service items.

Stanley Bresler’s 1,500-store Convenient Food Marts and other convenience store chains are rolling up impressive food-service figures even if the chains are not regarded as “traditional” food service. They certainly are intense competitors that will not go away no matter how traditional operators try to ignore them.

A significant indication of the inroads being made by convenience stores is that more than a few fast feeders are protesting an “unfair” cost and space advantage that convenience stores may enjoy because they purportedly do not have to observe sanitation laws.

“We’re finding it tough to compete with convenience stores in certain states and counties that make us comply with every sanitation regulation but don’t have any regulations applying to convenience stores,” declares an executive at one major fast feeder. “This gives them a huge cost advantage, as they don’t even need to provide rest rooms.”

Maybe so, but to some degree this kind of talk permeating the industry has to be sour grapes. Most of the major convenience store chains are complying with existing sanitary codes or setting their own. And ones further away from cities that don’t come under any regulations would only be injuring themselves by maintaining anything less than full sanitary conditions.

“We must be hurting the fast feeders for them to make unfounded accusations such as this,” asserts one convenience store leader. “Five or 10 years ago it may have been true, but almost every state and county has sanitation regulations and almost every convenience store complies.”

We hope so. Whatever the cost advantage may be, it is detrimental to the industry to have places without rest rooms or with subpar sanitary conditions.

Nevertheless, it behooves fast feeders that feel threatened by a purported lack of convenience store regulations to emphasize their own positive aspects in the food-service struggles.

At the very least, the recognition accorded convenience stores in the “rest rooms” controversy finally indicates that food-service operators have awakened to the “new” segment. They perceive that while convenience stores are not automatic gold mines, they are strong competitors that must be taken seriously–with or without rest rooms.

COPYRIGHT 1988 Reproduced with permission of the copyright holder. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

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