By Don Longo - 08/05/2020

NATIONAL REPORT — Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., the multinational convenience retailer that operates under the Circle K brand in the United States, has been selected the 2020 Foodservice Innovator of the Year in Convenience Store News’ ninth-annual Foodservice Innovators Awards program.

Circle K previously won Foodservice Innovators Awards in 2016 as Hot Beverages Innovator of the Year and in 2018 as Cold & Frozen Beverages Innovator of the Year. This year, the Laval, Quebec-based retailer heads the list of five best-in-class convenience foodservice retailers selected as honorees.

The other 2020 Foodservice Innovators Awards winners are:

  • Prepared Foods Innovator of the Year: Kwik Chek Food Stores
  • Hot Beverages Innovator of the Year: 7-Eleven Inc.
  • Cold & Frozen Beverages Innovator of the Year: Kwik Trip Inc.
  • Foodservice Innovator to Watch: Enmarket

Foodservice Innovators Awards winners are chosen by CSNews’ Foodservice Advisory Council, a panel of foodservice experts from the retailer, supplier, wholesaler, research and consulting fields. Winners are recognized for raising the bar on quality, service and innovation in the critically important foodservice category in the convenience channel.

Circle K was applauded by this year’s judges for the successful rollout of its new “Fresh Food Fast” concept across North America and for its excellent coffee program. Additionally, they gave the retailer high marks for effectively integrating menu items from its Holiday Stationstores acquisition into other Couche-Tard business units, as well as the addition of many popular private-label products.

Prepared Foods Innovator of the Year Kwik Chek Food Stores is based in Spicewood, Texas, and operates more than 45 convenience, grocery and quick food operations throughout Texas and Oklahoma. Judges cited Kwik Chek’s focus on fresh, quality foods, specifically pointing to its craveable and innovative family meal deals, fresh-made breakfast biscuits, and premium fajita tacos.

They also liked new limited time only (LTO) value meal deal menu additions, such as the El Jefe Taco, Bandit, Seafood Plates, Nashville Hot Buffalo or BBQ Chicken Tenders on a Roll, fresh-baked velvet cookies and hand-fried, fresh-made hash browns served with chopped onions. In addition, several judges felt the expanded prepared food offering was especially relevant in the current COVID-19 environment.

7-Eleven scored its second win as Hot Beverages Innovator of the Year, having first won this category in 2018. The nation’s largest convenience store chain also previously won Foodservice Innovators Awards in 2014 and 2019 for cold and frozen beverages, and in 2016 for Best LTO.

Judges cited 7-Eleven’s beverage innovation, including new bean-to-cup equipment, new soft-heat urn systems, the addition of Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee beans, and nitro-infused draft cold-brew coffee and tea. “7-Eleven keeps improving its coffee program, technology, new products and the customer experience,” one judge remarked.

Cold & Frozen Beverages Innovator of the Year Kwik Trip (KT), based in La Crosse, Wis., is also no stranger to the winners’ circle in the CSNews Foodservice Innovators Awards program. The retailer, which operates more than 560 c-stores in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, previously garnered the top honor of Foodservice Innovator of the Year in 2015 and 2019.

This year, the judges cited Kwik Trip as the catalyst behind the “Fresh Blends” smoothie program, helping to develop the prototype. Said one judge: “I vetted this program and it’s truly impressive. KT’s commitment to a plug-and-play, high-quality, easy-to-execute smoothie program should be recognized. An outstanding innovation for our industry that was driven by the experience, vision and wisdom of the Kwik Trip team.”

Savannah, Ga.-based Enmarket, which operates 125 c-stores, 14 quick-serve restaurants and a fast-casual restaurant, is this year’s Innovator to Watch. This category recognizes an up-and-coming convenience retailer making a name for itself through the quality and innovation of its foodservice program.

One judge said: “It’s tough to compete in the same market as Parker’s, but Enmarket’s Eatery is doing just that.” Another added: “They brought in Ryan Krebs and he did great things at Rutter’s.”

The council also recognized that in the past two years, Enmarket has made changes to its store layout, focus on food, and customer-driven culture. The company is one of the fastest-growing medium-sized chains in the industry, which will only elevate its reputation as it grows.

The five Foodservice Innovators Awards winners will be honored at CSNews’ 2020 Convenience Foodservice Exchange event, taking place Nov. 16-18 in Charlotte, N.C.

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