Rustlers Hotting up chilled category sales in wholesale and convenience

Earlier this year Kepak Convenience Foods brought out some Rustlers breakfasttime NPD, strengthening Rustlers’ position in the booming food to go category. Rustlers already competes with high street foodservice operators for several consumption occasions, in particular lunch, helping their retail partners and the wholesalers who serve them to win footfall from the Quick Service Restaurants.

Ross Davison, Kepak Convenience Foods

Now Rustlers’ entry into the Quick Hot Breakfast occasion with its ‘All Day Breakfast Sausage Muffin’ gives convenience retailers an exciting opportunity to win a share of this lucrative market. In an exclusive interview with Wholesale Manager, Ross Davison, Convenience Controller at Kepak Convenience Foods spoke about Kepak’s commitment to the convenience sector and the wholesalers who supply them, and helping them grow their business.

As Convenience Controller Ross’s remit is to manage Rustlers’ convenience channel strategy, which involves co-ordinating and liaising with the field sales team:

“I ensure the team is fully aligned with our plans to ensure Rustlers plays a leading role in the UK’s dynamic chilled convenience category. It’s all about making sure Rustlers, the UK’s No.1 micro-snacking brand, remains relevant to the cash and carry/wholesale trade and the retailers they supply.”

Ross is also involved in supply chain management, working closely with Rustlers’ in-house supply chain team to forecast effectively to fully satisfy customers’ requirements:

“Part of my role is to make sure our promotions at store level run smoothly and we communicate effective with our retail customers.

“I really enjoy my day-to-day liaison with wholesalers and their customers. As a brand that is widely available in the convenience channel, the wholesale sector is hugely important to Rustlers and it’s part of my remit to ensure that both they and the convenience outlets they serve look upon Rustlers as a brand that’s relevant to their everyday business. We can only do that by working closely with our wholesale customers.”

Rustlers’ annual sales are almost £90 million and, despite the challenging trading environment, growing steadily. Ross explains:

“We have a loyal, growing consumer base and our NPD is taking Rustlers into major new eating occasions, such as breakfast.”

One of the keys to Rustlers’ success and broad consumer appeal, says Ross, is how it meets many different meal occasion requirements:

“Lunch is the key occasion for microsnacking, accounting for nearly half of all consumption, followed by dinner at 22%. This highlights the dual role Rustlers can play for retailers throughout the day. Along with lunch, breakfast overtrades in convenience and forecourts versus the total market and that’s one of the reasons why our Rustlers All Day Breakfast Sausage Muffin, launched earlier this year, is proving so popular.”

From the retailer’s point of view the Rustlers All Day Breakfast Sausage Muffin enables retailers to extend their breakfast offer beyond the time of day when competitive quick service restaurants in their area stop serving hot breakfast solutions, providing them a with a major competitive advantage.

Kepak has also developed a portfolio of products that enables shopkeepers to align specific Rustlers SKUs with the key consumption occasions of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacking.

The wholesale channel has always been important to Rustlers, Ross explains:

“We have a strong footprint and broad distribution in this channel and we’re working hard to build on this position of strength. We’ll continue to focus on outstanding customer support and supply chain management, complemented by tailored promotional support and highly distinctive marketing activity that is driving consumer awareness and demand to its highest ever level.”

It’s one of the enduring certainties in the changing world of grocery, says Ross, that micro snacking products, led by Rustlers, are major traffic builders for convenience stores:

“Rustlers is such an instantly recognisable brand that it acts as a signpost for the chilled category and a beacon brand for chilled convenience. People who buy micro-snacking products are important to the convenience channel, as we know they spend 22% more per shop than the average c-store shopper and visit more frequently on a weekly basis. And as people continue to look for tasty alternatives to sandwiches, almost three quarters of food to go shoppers now buy meat snacks or hot food to go regularly for lunch.”

The good news for cash and carries, says Ross, is that many Rustlers SKUs are strong sellers in the impulse channel and Kepak’s portfolio of products enables retailers to meet demand for micro-snacks across all major consumption occasions.

“Our recently-launched breakfast product is performing really well and our two-best selling products in convenience are the flagship Rustlers Quarter Pounder and the Rustlers Cheeseburger.

“As the landscape of food consumption in the UK evolves, there’s an increase in both “together time” eating occasions and “eating alone.” To stay relevant in an evolving world, brands need to be clear on the occasions their products play in and the need-state they meet in that occasion – and Rustlers is no exception.

“One of the core need-states the Rustlers brand meets is the “Quick Option.” Whilst breakfast at the weekends can be a leisurely affair, our insight tells us there is real time poverty when it comes to breakfast during the week, and so the “Quick Option” needstate is particularly important. While Quick Hot Breakfast has been well served by the High Street QSR Market, Rustlers’ entry into this occasion with our ‘All Day Breakfast Sausage Muffin’ gives retailers an exciting opportunity to win a share of this.”

Introducing a breakfast product at this point gives Kepak and their retail customers, the opportunity to build on the brand’s strength in the food to go market as breakfast is an occasion that is performing exceptionally well on the high street but is not limited to a short window span of availability.

“We set out to launch a product concept that was well established in foodservice and critically that would be competitive, from a value for money perspective, with the leading players in the sector – McDonald’s and Greggs. Our consumer research highlights we’ve achieved that with 94% of consumers interested in the concept and our early stage sales and consumer response indicators are re-enforcing the confidence we have that this will be a very significant launch.”

The Rustlers brand is renowned for its distinctive marketing support, not least the recent, multi award-winning TV commercial ’80 years of torment.’ Rustlers are maintaining their quirky edge this month (November) by supporting the UK’s construction industry with Rustlers’ sponsorship of the UK’s first ever Construction Games:

“We’ll be focusing on the high level of skill required to work in construction and providing apprenticeships for the winning company in areas where they feel they have a skills shortage.”

The construction tie-up is less of a lateral idea than you might suppose. As Ross points out, Rustlers’ products are highly portable and ideally suited to being enjoyed out of home, including in offices and other workplaces – anywhere there’s a microwave on hand. Meanwhile, Ross reckons the current consolidation in the wholesale/retail market will provide opportunities for those who can adapt to change.

“It’s relatively early days, but we have seen how consolidation is resulting in more emphasis on technology, which is enabling wholesaler communication to be more IT-driven. Retailers at all levels are also more tech-savvy and utilise digital data to drive their offering forward at a greater pace than before. Changes in retailer purchasing habits are also accelerating the growth of delivered wholesale.”

Kepak is driving demand in convenience with the phased rollout of a new merchandising strategy in chillers. In trials, the initiative has boosted sales significantly across several key chilled convenience categories merchandised within the food-to-go and chilled ready meals fixtures:

“We based the strategy on shopper research which identified need states and key consumption occasions for micro-snacking, as well as other chilled convenience categories. The research also identified where the optimum location is in-store to merchandise micro-snacking, as well as category adjacencies on-shelf.”

“We’re also driving demand among convenience retailers with a highprofile trade PR and press advertising campaign, highlighting the relevance of Rustlers to c-store retailers and how it can act as a beacon brand on the chilled convenience fixture. We’re also supporting the brand in-depot with dedicated POS and advice on how best to merchandise Rustlers.”

Earlier this year Kepak ran a trial involving merchandising part of the chilled fixture at Bestway’s Team Valley depot, which led to Rustlers’ sales increasing by an average of almost 40%. The re-lay involved siting Rustlers first in flow, recognising the importance of effective POS and making sure there was enough stock to meet high levels of retailer demand.

Looking at the wider picture, Kepak is helping cash and carries to promote/develop their overall chilled sales this autumn and beyond, taking practical steps such as realistic case sizes of 4 to help encourage stocking in the convenience channel and minimise wastage:

“The wholesale channel is hugely important to us and we’re confident the plans we have in place will result in us going from to strength in this key sector. We’re fleet of foot and ready to adapt to future change, backed by a wealth of experience and knowledge that we’re keen to share with our customers. It bodes well for the future.”