I worked in the convenience store industry for thirty long years and loved every minute of it, especially when I was in the stores talking with employees, customers and vendors. No two days were the same and I had the luxury of meeting people that have become life long friends. It was always an adventure filled with laughter, hard work and long hours. I am not a desk person and my job allowed me to travel daily. Some days were planned routes accompanied by other management people and some were just random driving with unannounced visits. My favorite method!
I first remember the US market attempting to do fresh food and make our own in-store food. It was kind of exciting to be on the precipice of this venture. I watched over time as the products changed from purely deep fried unhealthy calorie filled typical state fair or carnival food, to a more healthy alternative. At Circle K a decision was made to try and open “Take Home Ready Made Meals”, that just needed to be heated. It was a good move with lots of choices, but our customers weren’t ready for the process or option at that point. I am also not sure they thought a convenience store chain had any business producing take home meals.
Then I visited Japan, where the largest franchisee Ito-Yokado, bought 7-11 in 1998 and took it out of bankruptcy. It is also where they do the ready to eat so much better than we can ever think about. Daily a truck brings all fresh items and takes away their leftover product. I was blown away and utterly mesmerized by their process and the extent of the items offered. I could virtually eat at my local 7-11 in Japan and not have the same meal or item for I am guessing 90 days or more.
I was amazed and tried sampling many of their products. It was like I was at a restaurant in Japan or someone’s home. Yes it is really that good! They did it right and I wish that we could get it right in the US. I think geography has a lot to do with it, as their stores in Japan are just blocks apart. If you find yourself hungry after hours or any time of day, while in Japan, I highly recommend you visit your nearest 7-11 and try their food. You will not be disappointed, it’s a bargain and it’s obviously fresh, given they bring it in daily!
I am going back again in December to one of my favorite countries in the world (Japan) and you can bet your bottom dollar I will take every opportunity I get, eating breakfast, lunch and an occasional dinner at my local 7-11. I love their food and can’t wait to get back. I am sure their options and menus have expanded and I will be surprised with the new foods being offered. Definitely a business success story of the highest caliber!