7-ELEVEN INCREASES FRESH-FOODS PRESENCE

DALLAS -- 7-Eleven here is increasing its investment in fresh foods with new items such as co-branded stuffed baked potatoes and salad cups, an expansion of its Deli Central program and the addition of more commissaries, said officials of the nation's largest convenience store chain.The activity is concurrent with the promotion of Jim Richter, a former supermarket executive, to 7-Eleven's vice president

DALLAS -- 7-Eleven here is increasing its investment in fresh foods with new items such as co-branded stuffed baked potatoes and salad cups, an expansion of its Deli Central program and the addition of more commissaries, said officials of the nation's largest convenience store chain.

The activity is concurrent with the promotion of Jim Richter, a former supermarket executive, to 7-Eleven's vice president of fresh foods. Officials said the appointment is an indication the chain is committed to expanding its influence as a fresh-foods destination.

Richter, who left his job last year as vice president of produce at Randalls Food Markets, Houston, joined 7-Eleven as executive director of fresh foods. He was initially charged with finding new ways to enhance and expand the chain's Deli Central program, which had begun to prosper with the addition of new elements over the past two years.

In the newest fresh-foods push, Richter has initiated partnerships with two national brands -- Dole and Green Giant -- to create car-friendly salad cups similar to McDonald's McSalad Shakers, and partially baked potatoes, respectively.

Along the way, he has also tapped other supermarket retail executives to help him build the convenience store chain's fresh business. This spring, he hired one of his former Randalls associates -- Rick Morzak -- to be 7-Eleven's product category manager for produce and floral. Morzak had worked for Richter at Randalls as senior produce merchandiser.

Richter's supermarket background is extensive. It includes posts at H.E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio, and Marsh Supermarkets, Indianapolis, as well as at Randalls. Drawing on that experience, he intends to "re-invent fresh foods for the c-store industry," he said. He oversees produce, meal solutions, deli, dairy, frozen treats, fast foods, bakery, hot and cold sandwiches and operations at 12 commissaries and bakeries.

Earlier this month, Richter met with representatives from Dole Fresh Vegetables, Salinas, Calif., to put together a partnership that involves test-marketing salads that fit into car-cup holders. This is another way to offer freshness and convenience to 7-Eleven's customer base which includes a preponderance of "dashboard diners," officials at the chain said.

If it works as well as the company expects it to, the product will be rolled out nationwide by the end of summer, according to Richter.

With the coming of fall, Richter also expects to be testing partially baked potatoes from Green Giant. Customers will have the opportunity to heat them in-store in microwave ovens and add toppings from a condiment station.

While sandwiches, both hot and cold, are the mainstay of 7-Eleven's meals and snacks business, the menu has been bolstered with new items that have have sent sales in some categories soaring.

For example, when the company added fresh hot breakfast sandwiches to its menu a year ago, sales zoomed up 126% over the same period a year earlier. It represented an increase that was at least 10% over projections, officials said at the time.

Then later, it experimented with a hot dog-shaped taco -- a move to provide the popular taste of tacos in a form that's easy to eat, officials said. However, traditional hot dogs remain the chain's most popular ready-to-eat food item.

Bulking up the variety of fresh foods it offers and still keeping the menu tailored to its specific customer base is a major aim of the fresh-foods contingent at 7-Eleven, officials told SN in an earlier interview. The newest items are included in the Deli Central program which is now in operation in many of the chain's more than 5,600 units. The fresh foods are supplied by third-party commissaries strategically located at points across the United States.