Gas stations as gourmet destinations?
It's an unlikely culinary revolution, but Slim Jims are making way for sushi as convenience stores transform themselves with upscale eats and shed their image as junk food pit stops.
It's an attempt by the industry to discourage the gas-up-and-go mentality and bolster the bottom line with artisanal cheeses, freshly baked breads and high-end meals that entice consumers to linger and eat -- and to do it often.
''We're trying to make these stores destinations rather than convenience stops," said Stuart Lowry, marketing director for The Markets of Tiger Fuel, a Virginia convenience chain that offers fresh seafood, a fancy deli, and professional chefs.
The change comes at a crucial time for the nation's 138,000 convenience stores. At the same time profit margins are shrinking, the $395 billion industry is facing tough new competition from grocers adding fuel pumps and drug stores that offer more food than pharmaceuticals.
The economics of the transformation make sense. A good price on fuel might get people in the door once or twice a week. Great coffee, brick-oven pizza, and gelato could pull them in daily.
Since many customers are more loyal to good coffee than to gasoline brands, that's money well spent, said Russ Ritenour, Exxon Mobil's hot beverages manager. The company even has added a new position at its stores -- brew master.