HOUSTON -- Using their delis as a platform to differentiate themselves from competitors, Coastal Mart food-service locations have branded the stations, using deli products from a single manufacturer, to create a successful proprietary program.
Coastal's Deli Fresh Express has experienced consistent sales growth since its inception. According to the company, sales were up 17% over base-year 1997 levels -- the most recent figures available -- and are rising again this year.
Coastal Mart Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Coastal Corp., based here, launched the program about two years ago when it switched deli meat vendors and began to carry Hatfield, Pa.-based Hatfield Quality Meats' Medford Brand of deli products.
Originally, Coastal asked Hatfield to outline a new deli program that would be proprietary. The response was a whole new concept for the chain, according to Steve Egbert, vice president/category manager for Coastal Corp. Initially, there were concerns that consumers would reject such a significant departure from the traditional format.
"People tend to resist change, especially when it comes to food brands," said Egbert. "I was genuinely worried about having to convert people to a new deli product."
Though customer demographics in areas surrounding new locations supported the maintenance of existing deli formats, the company made the decision to revamp the program in an effort to increase customer traffic and boost ancillary sales.
"Coastal Mart saw some opportunities to transform an existing and underperforming convenience-store deli program by making changes that would enhance customer appeal and boost competitiveness," said Egbert. "After making those changes, food-service operations are now turning in impressive sales gains for Coastal Mart."
To create a brand concept that would attract customers' attention, the Deli Fresh Express name and logo were developed, in eye-catching shades of green, red and yellow. They appeared on signage, in advertising, and on bright product labels featuring a born-on date and time, reinforcing the freshness of the product.
This information was particularly important to the success of the Coastal program, since customers who may once have been reluctant to purchase deli items because of doubts over freshness no longer had any reason to feel that way. Additionally, Coastal's "Fresh or Free Guarantee" promises all sandwiches and hoagies are fresh or the customer receives a free replacement.
Originally developed to boost lunch-time sales, the Deli Fresh Express program has since been expanded into other dayparts. While noon-time patrons are treated to a wide variety of choices, customers will also find the deli counter open for breakfast.
Coastal introduced a breakfast sandwich to kick off the breakfast campaign. Initially, each store was building an average of 30 per day. Now, the program features seven different varieties of "made-fresh-daily" breakfast sandwiches, and individual units are building an average of 50 per day with a goal of 500 per week, according to Egbert.
Following on the success of the breakfast sandwiches, Coastal further expanded the area in November with the introduction of the Fresh Express hot-lunch program featuring hot sandwiches, soup, and specialty items such as calzones, stromboli, barbecue, and deep dish pizza.
These new programs have contributed to a new-found level of customer loyalty that continues to rise, according to Egbert. The added business has translated into higher sales. "Our deli sales increased significantly in the first month and they have continued to grow," he said.
He attributed this success to Coastal's ability to define its customer base and its needs. "The strength of Coastal Mart's food-service operations lies in identifying and meeting the specific customer needs of each area served."