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{Great Ideas} Three Food Trends that Boost Sales

Posted in: Great Ideas, Darren's Great Ideas for Independent Operators


Welcome to the fourth article in our newest blog series, Darren’s Great Ideas! for Independent Operators. Darren Schulte, NATSO’s new vice president of membership, brings to NATSO a wealth of knowledge about our industry.

Darren has nearly three decades of experience in truckstop and travel plaza operations and merchandising, most recently as the vice president for retail merchandising for TSC Global/Barjan LLC. In 2011, he visited more than 100 independent operators throughout North America. Prior to his time with TSC Global/Barjan LLC, Darren worked for Petro Stopping Centers, Hess Oil and Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores.

Join Darren here every other Thursday for his biweekly retail column.


Food service remains one of the few mega growth categories left in our industry. Although some locations continue to see dine-in growth, overall grab-n-go offerings are hot and knowing which products to offer when can help spur sales. Locations can select and refine their offerings based on their key customer demographic and industry trends. Consider these three current trends to help boost food sales.

Offer Ethnic Foods
Not only are ethnic foods a way for operators to appeal to certain demographics, but they can also appeal to consumers across the board. For example, Hispanic offerings such as burritos, tamales and tostadas have wide appeal. Japanese Soy Beans or Edamame have become stables in many non-Asian food establishments and stores. To help gauge what to offer, operators can look at their over-the-road owner operator demographics. If you see a growing trend, take some time out to speak to the over-the-road drivers about what they are searching for in food offerings then turn around and SPEAK to them with your food product offerings. 

Provide Healthy Choices
Today’s consumers are asking for healthier options and operators are responding by offering fresh foods in their hotboxes and deli reach-in coolers. Yogurts, fresh fruit, vegetables and cheeses are prime examples. To maximize this category, operators can also strategically place healthy fare around their deli, coffee and fountain drink areas in addition to the transaction counter. Making a statement that you’re in the healthy choice business is essential however just placing a basket of fruit on the counter [while it is a start] is not being in the business.

Consider Consumers’ Renewed Interest in Fried Foods
While fresh food is all of the rage, fried foods remain a menu staple and recent studies continue to show an increase in the fried foods consumers are eating. Consumers may say they want healthy and organic foods, but a Technomic report found that 91 percent of consumers said they eat a burger at least once a month and 44 percent have a burger at least once a week. In addition to burgers, brats and sausages continue to drive sales among core convenience store customers. Locations may also want to consider adding items such as turkey wings, gizzards and egg rolls to their offerings.

/// Read more Darren's Great Ideas for Independent Operators posts here


Join the conversation!  Do you have plans to add new food categories? Post your ideas in the comments below.

Or have a different retail merchandising, marketing or operations question? Post your question in the comments and Darren will answer it in the next Darren’s Great Ideas! for Independent Operators.

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About the Author

Darren Schulte

Darren Schulte

Darren Schulte serves as Vice President of Membership at NATSO. In this role, he directs recruitment, retention and customer service for truckstop and travel plaza members. He is also responsible for developing NATSO products and programs, particularly those relating to education, research and training for truckstop and travel plaza operators.

Schulte also leads NATSO's Profitable Retail Review program. A Profitable Retail Review is a custom assessment of your truckstop, including recommendations for every aspect of your facility, from actionable ideas to improve revenue to tactical ways to improve your net operating costs. Learn about NATSO's Profitable Retail Review program here.

Schulte joined NATSO with nearly three decades of experience in truckstop and travel plaza operations and merchandising. Schulte has worked for: 

  • Love's Travel Stops and Country Stores,
  • HESS Corporation, 
  • Petro Stopping Centers, and
  • TSC Global/Barjan LLC.