7-Eleven Hawai‘i Sells More Than Just Slurpees

Find local produce, high-end wine, even tonkotsu pork ramen at your neighborhood convenience store.


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Last month 7-Eleven Hawai‘i launched tonkotsu pork ramen. The chain rolls out two to three new products every week.
Photos: Courtesy of 7-Eleven Hawai‘i

 

If you’re like me, you venture into the nearest 7-Eleven for a quick bite or a Diet Coke—not really thinking about the effort and thought that goes into the hundreds of products on the shelves.

 

But if you look beyond the Slurpee machines—which is hard, I know—you might be surprised by what the state’s largest convenience store chain is now offering.

 

7-Eleven stores carry about 120 different fresh food items, including 10 varieties of the popular Spam musubi. And these products are delivered fresh to every store nightly.

 

You can find pork guisantes (pork and peas), kim chee fried rice with spicy pork, chicken alfredo pasta, beef pho bowls and tonkotsu pork ramen. Some stores, including a new one opening in Pioneer Plaza next month, bake pastries and pizzas fresh on site. Other stores, particularly those in rural areas, carry more fresh produce, including carrots, onions, lemons, potatoes, cabbage, apples, tomatoes and eggs from OK Poultry in Waimānalo.

 

7-Eleven offers a variety of fresh food items, all made daily at a manufacturing facility in Māpunapuna.

 

Another new product, released a few months ago, is the beef pho bowl.

 

“We’ve actually always been focused on our fresh food,” says Debbie Lee Soon, senior food category manager for 7-Eleven Hawai‘i. “I think people would be really surprised to know about the quality of our food.”

 

In 1996 the Japan-based Warabeya USA, which handles all of the chain’s fresh food products, moved to a 26,000-square-foot facility in Māpunapuna, which employs 260 worke The space includes a 16,000-square-foot production area, an in-house lab to test products and houses a machine capable of making 900 pounds of cooked rice per hour.

 

Every week, this facility rolls out two to three new products at its stores, from twists on the Spam musubi to lunch bentos. Last week 7-Eleven launched a new chicken-cilantro-salad sandwich created by Hawai‘i first lady Dawn Ige. The sammie features diced grilled chicken breast mixed with an herbed yogurt dressing, feta cheese, locally grown lettuce and tomatoes on sprouted-grain bread by La Tour Bakehouse.

 

SEE ALSO: What Really Goes On At La Tour Bakehouse

 

This year the company launched the Master Sommelier Wine Program, working with master sommeliers Roberto Viernes and Patrick Okubo to improve its wine offerings. Sixty-two of 7-Eleven’s 64 stores across the state are selling wines they’ve selected, priced between $9.99 and $30.99.

 

“It’s been very successful,” Soon says. “People can now, at the spur of the moment, go to the nearest 7-Eleven for good quality, well-priced wine.”

 

It takes at least three months for a new product to go from an idea to store shelves, Soon explains. There are weeks of market research, recipe development, taste testing and strategizing. How does it taste? How will it heat up in a microwave? From where are we sourcing the ingredients? How much will it cost? All these questions have to be answered first before products get into stores.

 

And not all products do well. Two years ago, 7-Eleven created a sushi burrito, something that was popular in urban Mainland cities. The giant spicy ‘ahi roll didn’t sell with customers who were used to smaller, handheld sushi rolls, so the company discontinued it.

 

This furikake-miso salmon will be available in 7-Eleven stores in February 2018.

 

Soon’s goal is to prepare fresh food in stores, from salads to serve-yourself ramen bars. Right now, though, the company continues to work on adding more products to its fresh food lineup, including a furikake-miso salmon that will debut next February.

 

You’re not going to find fancy gourmet takeout at 7-Eleven, but that’s not why you go there, anyway. You want quick, tasty food that you can actually afford and you’ll get that—along with a nice bottle of wine, too.

 

Taste some of new dishes and other 7-Eleven items at the Chef’s Table event on Nov. 8 at Mini of Hawai‘i. Click here for more information.

 

READ MORE STORIES BY CATHERINE TOTH FOX

 

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