Left, Craig Walker, R.&D. product initiation specialist, and Ben Rizzitello, retail marketing manager, promote Wenner Bakery’s signature breads and donuts during the recent 2017 NACS Show.

CHICAGO — Bakers took direct aim at the food service section of convenience stores with a barrage of baked goods ranging from bite-sized birthday cakes to jalapeño cornbread at the 2017 NACS Show, held Oct. 17-21 in Chicago.

It’s easy to see why. Food service — a broad grab-and-go category that includes everything from donuts, bagels, pastries and premium coffee to fresh and prepared sandwiches, grilled hot dogs, and soda — contributed 21.7% of in-store sales in 2016, according to the latest State of the Industry data released by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) earlier this year. Next to tobacco, the food service category is the second largest one for in-store sales, which notched a record $233 billion in annual revenue last year.

Perhaps more impressively, food service accounted for 35.2% of gross profit dollars for inside the c-store in 2016, according to NACS. Overall, every food service subcategory — except for commissary and frozen dispensed beverages — experienced growth in convenience stores. 

Within the food service section of the 2017 NACS Show, Oriol Tey, president of first-time exhibitor Wenner Bakery, described traffic by attendees as “non-stop busy.” The Ronkonkoma, N.Y.-based bakery handed out samples of its signature hand-tied garlic Knots as well as DOTS — its extensive line of conventional and filled thaw-and-sell donuts. The sweet goods are made from sustainably sourced cocoa and palm oils and are non-G.M.O., according to the company. The bakery also displayed its extensive line of fully baked breads, subs, hamburger buns and sandwich rolls. Wenner Bakery is owned by Europastry, Europe’s largest producer of thaw-and-sell donuts and the fifth largest frozen bakery company worldwide, based in Barcelona, Spain.

Another newcomer to this year’s NACS show, International Delights, Clifton, N.J., rolled out its line of traditional and European-style pastries and sweet goods. Sold in the c-store channel under the Oven Delights Bakehouse brand, the individually packaged baked goods feature classic and filled croissants and six varieties of filled Danish. The company also displayed its new line of muffins — including blueberry, apple and banana nut varieties made with fruit — and three flavors of individual pound cakes. The company also recently reformulated its products with no partially hydrogenated oils (phos), high-fructose corn syrup or artificial colors, said Robyn Spritzer, director of marketing, International Delights.

Los Angeles-based Aryzta gave attendees a sneak preview of its plans for its Big Texas brand for next year. The company displayed individually wrapped, 3.5-oz. Big Texas Jalapeño Cornbread. The savory snack is expected to roll out in the spring of 2018 and will be packaged in a caddy designed specifically for c-stores, a company representative said. The Big Texas line also will include a large cinnamon roll featured at the show and a still, yet-to-be determined item. Aryzta acquired the Big Texas brand after it purchased Chicago-based Cloverhill Bakery in 2014.

Hill County Bakery's Decadent Bars have a 21-day shelf life.

Hill Country Bakery featured seven varieties of its Decadent Bars sold under the Coffee House Café brand. During the show, the San Antonio-based bakery noted that its lemon, butter and raspberry varieties quickly emerged as overwhelming favorites. Merchandised in a refrigerated case, the 3.5-oz gourmet dessert bars have a 21-day shelf life.

Alessi Bakeries, Tampa, Fla., promoted its new Rainbow Cakes and Birthday Cakes. The rainbow bakery treat is a three-color almond cake layered with European raspberry filling and topped with a chocolate coating and colorful sprinkles. Meanwhile, the tri-colored Vanilla Crème Birthday Cakes include a raspberry filling and are topped with a white chocolate coating and sprinkles. Each 2-oz. package contains three bite-sized pieces and are merchandised in six-count boxes.

J&J Snack Foods Corp., Pennsauken, N.J., presented its c-store version of its Auntie Anne’s frozen soft pretzels packaging as well as a cross-section of Labriola Baking pretzel buns and rolls. Earlier this year, J&J acquired Labriola Baking and became the official licensee and distributor of premium Auntie Anne's frozen soft pretzel products, which includes pretzels, pretzel nuggets and pretzel sandwiches sold in retailers nationwide.

J&J also offered three new varieties of Pretzel Fillers stuffed and topped soft pretzels: Sea Salted Caramel, Chipotle Cheddar and Beer Cheese. The products are available in both 3.5- and 6.25-oz sizes in the food service channel. Additionally, it featured Bavarian-branded pretzel bagels, designed to extend the bagel into the luncheon and afternoon eating occasion, said Damon Williams, marketing manager — food service, J&J Snack Foods.

Moreover, J&J updated its Corazonas HEARTBAR Oatmeal Squares. The non-G.M.O. snacks contain up to 6 grams of protein per bar and the same amount of plant sterols per serving found in 61 tomatoes, 36 bananas or 30 apples.

To expand its presence in the food service arena, King’s Hawaiian, Torrance, Calif., featured pre-sliced slider buns. The convenient four-pack not only provides inventory control but also ensure freshness and food safety, said Erin Murphy, food service and convenience sales, West.

For more information on NACS State of the Industry data, visitwww.nacsonline.com.