ORLANDO, Fla. -- A few certainties identified at the NACS Show 2002, hosted by the National Association of Convenience Stores, Oct. 5-8 at the gargantuan Orange County Convention Center:
The c-store industry is booming, based on the fact that in a year in which most trade shows lost attendance, NACS's draw grew. There are loads more brands of candy, tobacco, beer and food products than most can imagine.
Live entertainment at trade shows is alive and well, and when that talent is sitting in front of a booth labeled Playboy or Penthouse, it's sure to draw a crowd.
And judging by the number of people lined up to grab a free slice of the pie, pizza is a popular food item prepared in America's c-stores.
Consider Jim Howell, president of Tampa, Fla.-based Perky's Pizza, last seen dishing out his 400th seven-inch pizza just halfway through the show. Howell was happy to do it, and he wasn't alone. No less than a dozen pizza concept exhibitors were doling out samples of their piping-hot pies, seeking deals to put their products in some of the 124,500 U.S. convenience stores -- outlets that do $283 billion in annual sales, according to NACS statistics. And there's little doubt that a pizza concession is becoming as much a staple of the c-store diet as the ATM.
Anne Reilly and Jim Howell hosted the Perky's Pizza Booth at the show.
"Pizza never goes out of fashion, even when the economy suffers," said Howell, who has Perky's outlets in 450 widely varied domestic businesses, including bowling alleys and zoos. "It's something people depend on and count on wherever they go."
Visiting in the Perky's booth was Durwood House of London, Ky., whose two stores began serving Perky's products in September. House, in the business for 31 years, said he decided to add the pizza product now because he needed foodservice that was not "labor intensive" and the product was "good pizza."
A few more of the stories from the show floor, where more than 20,000 attendees walked the aisles, many seeking a piece of pizza:
Slices and pies. Jim Chisholm is director of retail-sales development for Liberty USA, which has for nine years offered its Bellaricos concept to c-stores. It has 400 store placements in 33 states.
"Our niche is the slice market - it's an impulse thing," Chisolm said. "Today pizza is more of a staple, and it's become a priority."
Jim Chisholm shows off his company's Bellaricos brand pizza.
Chisolm said that six months ago his company began offering a new product -- a fully-assembled, self-rising crust pie shipped frozen. Chisolm said the profit for retailers is potentially $18,000 per year on sales of just a dozen pies a day.
All in the family. In sheer numbers, Buffet Style Pizza may be an industry giant with more than 4,600 outlets. But the Nashville-based company operates under the national radar screen, primarily in small-market c-stores.
Britt Hunt, one of 18 Hunt family members working in the business, said it was the company's second year at the NACS show. Hunt's father, Don, and three of his brothers started the operation in the 1980s.
During the show, the pizza was flying out of the company's ovens.
"Anytime we're putting pizza in people's mouths, we're happy," Hunt said.
Outlet Inn-ovation. Dallas-based Pizza Inn is introducing a new modular concept for construction of future stores. The 430-outlet chain will ship an entire restaurant in four sections, which are assembled on site in less than a week. (For an interesting view of the onsite modular assembly process, view the photos at Valiant Diner's Web site, and scroll down to the middle of the page.)
Two-minute warming. Imagine making a pizza from scratch in less than three minutes. An Italian firm, Artos, S.A., has manufactured a machine that does just that, and showcased it at the NACS show.
Artos, S.A.'s fully automated pizza maker.
Business consultant Kay Segel, representing the Italian firm, said the prototypes at the show were not for sale, but that they could be on the market in a year.
According to printed materials supplied at the booth, the fully automated APZ-150 makes its own fresh dough. When a customer orders a pizza, it takes a dough ball, flattens it, sauces, tops and cheeses it, and then bakes it in a lightwave-convection oven for two minutes. The manufacturers also claim it needs no hood.
There's growth, then there are these guys. If you believe the numbers, Philipe's French Bread Pizza has to be the fastest-growing concept in the c-store pizza industry. The idea took shape three years ago, said David Elchynski, vice president of sales and marketing for Better Baked Foods Inc.
Thanks in part to a two-year development effort in cooperation with Circle K stores, the product is available in 3,000 locations. According to managing director Mark Greenburg the company plans to deploy an additional 2,000 units before year's end, plus place 7,000 more in new locations in 2003.
The self-serve product is microwaved for three minutes; the cooking equipment comes free of charge to store operators.
In the NACS Show 2002 magazine, Philipe's French Bread Pizza made NACS' list of best new products unveiled at the show.