Kwik Trip decided that it was time to let customers get everything they need for cookouts, so the convenience store has added a selection of fresh meats in time for the grilling season.

Patrons previously could buy buns, bread, potatoes, onions, salads, beer, chips and other vittles, “but then they had to go to another store for the meat,” said Greg Scriver, the La Crosse-based chain’s procurement and marketing director. “The idea is to offer our guests what goes in the bun, too, so to speak.”

Offerings include several cuts of steak, ground beef, pork chops, chicken breasts, ribs and a variety of hot dogs and brats.

The venture, which was rolled out in Kwik Trip’s 414 convenience stores in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa on May 2, is exceeding expectations, Scriver said. He also said the meat offerings fill a gap left by the decline of rural grocery stores.

Declining to reveal overall figures, Scriver said sales Tuesday were 25 percent above the previous Tuesday’s.

The endeavor is spreading the bounty among other local businesses, such as Bakalars Sausage Co. and Reinhart FoodService in La Crosse.

Bakalars has added eight employees and increased production 25 percent to provide brats, hot dogs and sausages under the Kitchen Cravings label for Kwik Trip, said company president Mike Bakalars.

“The Kwik Trip business has been a big increase in our business,” Bakalars said. “It’s been a good opportunity for everybody involved.”

Although you might expect a butcher to consider Kwik Trip a rustler on his turf, Holmen Locker and Meat Market owner Scott Stettler said, “Competition is always healthy. I don’t view it as too big of a threat.”

Kwik Trip CEO “Don Zietlow wanted to do this for quite some time,” said Scriver, who worked for Reinhart for 28 years before taking his Kwik Trip job Aug. 1.

Marketed as “Big on fresh, low on price,” the selection of products and vendors, including Reinhart for some steaks, came after extensive research, Scriver said.

“We want to provide great products and value,” he said. “Packaging must be perfect to provide shelf life.”

Scriver acknowledged that even some vendors asked: “Really? Fresh meat at Kwik Trip?”

Company representatives visited not only local plants but also packers in Arkansas and Missouri, he said.

“Many were vying for our business,” he said. “We had more samples than people could eat. We had 12 to 15 different packers trying to meet our criteria for high quality and consistent packaging.”

In addition to Bakalars sausages, brats and dogs, Kwik Trip also is stocking Klements brats, “a staple of Wisconsin products,” Scriver said.

The proximity of Bakalars and Reinhart to Kwik Trip’s distribution hub helps ensure a cost-effective, fresh supply, he said.

“We don’t have the selection of a 30-foot meat display, but we’ve covered the bases,” he said. “We didn’t skimp. We’ve got all-natural USDA choice angus.”

The chain is phasing in free-standing coolers for the meats and additions of other products such as lunchmeats and salads, and, of course, sauerkraut to complement the brats.

Kwik Trip also plans to add products such as Hamburger Helper, macaroni and cheese, steak sauce and fresh green beans, peppers and mushrooms “to better accommodate full-meal solutions,” Scriver said.

“In a lot of rural areas where we are privileged to have a Kwik Trip, the grocery stores are gone,” and the expanded options will help fill that gap, he said.

Customer reaction has been largely favorable, judging from postings on Kwik Trip’s Facebook page.

Asked for a retailer’s reaction, Dave Skogen, chairman of Onalaska-based Festival Foods, said, “Many large box grocers around the country offer gas — why then should grocers complain?

“Over the years, Kwik Trip has evolved into a small competitive and convenient grocery store, so why not a few offerings of meat?” Skogen said.

“We have 248 linear feet of fresh meat and poultry in our stores,” as well as 25 butchers and meat specialists, Skogen said. “There will be no butcher in their stores and little variety.

“As an old butcher myself, I love our model: Cut and grind it fresh every day in store. Smiling meat specialist assisting with the sale and cooking suggestions. We will be just fine.

“Look at it another way,” Skogen said. “Kwik Trip is a good corporate citizen just like Festival. We both employ hundreds of associates. We buy their gas, they shop our stores.”

Holmen Locker’s Stettler said, “Granted, they do have some good prices on some things, like ground beef … but we’re the smaller market where we can cater to our customers with one-on-one service.”

Kwik Trip is “a good outfit. They’re good for the community, and they give a lot of people jobs, which is good for everybody. They’re good at what they do, and we’re good with what we do,” Stettler said.

“I go to Kwik Trip. It’s handy when you want bananas or a couple of baked potatoes or onions. ...

“Of course, I won’t buy any meat there,” he added with a chuckle.

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