More Than Just Slurpees

Local Produce, High-End Wine, Even Tonkatsu Pork Ramen

More Than Just Slurpees

Catherine Toth Fox | Nov 11, 2017
This article was originally published in Honolulu Magazine on November 11, 2017

If you’re like me, you venture into the nearest 7-Eleven Hawai'i 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 Hawai'i 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.

“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.”

7-Eleven Hawai'i 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.

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 workers. 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. (In late October) 7-Eleven Hawai'i 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 herb yogurt dressing, feta cheese, locally grown lettuce and tomatoes, on sprouted-grain bread by 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 Hawai'i'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 Hawai'i 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 Hawai'i 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.

Soon’s goal is to prepare fresh food in stores, from salads to self-serve 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 Hawai'i, 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.

*Date of Pioneer Plaza opening is still pending.