The pandemic clearly shifted the way consumers shop, but the c-store landscape was already changing before the lockdown hit. In fact, the growing demand for fresher and healthier snacks started making headlines back in 20151. The pandemic simply accelerated the transformation since people wanted their shopping trips to be quicker, more convenient and provide more access to better-for-you foods2.
So, where are things now? We dug into the specifics of the changing c-store landscape to better understand today’s shoppers and what it all means for you.
WHO IS THE MODERN C-STORE CONSUMER?
THEY ARE HUNGRY
Food is now one of the top reasons people visit c-stores, with millennials leading the charge3. Foodservice sales went up 20.5% in 2021 (after falling 10% in 2020) and they’re currently 35% of in-store gross profits4.
Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that the c-store industry is moving toward a foodservice focused business model3. Especially when you consider profit margins on foodservice items are higher than general merchandise (which ultimately makes foodservice the largest revenue category after tobacco3).
Snacks are still the biggest draw5, of course, but c-stores that are upping their foodservice game are giving today’s consumers exactly what they’re craving.
“Foodservice sales went up 20.5% in 2021, and they’re currently 35% of in-store gross profits.”
THEY HAVE HIGH EXPECTATIONS
To say that today’s c-store consumers want fresher, higher quality foods is an understatement. They’re demanding better-for-you options everywhere they shop2 and elevated foodservice offerings are key to capturing this new demographic.
Millennials in particular — a whopping 80% of them — say that quality is key to their food purchasing decisions, and 52% say they’ll pay more for ready-made meals that are high quality and healthy6. They also want a more convenient and hassle-free experience3, which explains why c-stores have been evolving their interior environments as much as the types of foods they offer.
The addition of dining areas, on-site kitchens and locally sourced produce are turning c-stores into more varied operations. Everything from urban micro grocers selling premium products to gas station mini marts with spruced up menus and interiors7.
THEY DON’T WANT TO WAIT
The very nature of c-stores puts speed and convenience at the top of the shopper’s priority list. What’s surprising is how little it takes for today’s consumers to walk out and leave their intended purchases behind. Seriously. Nearly half of consumers surveyed say they will leave a c-store if there are more than two people in line at the register5.
Knowing how time-sensitive today’s shoppers are, it’s imperative to ensure there’s adequate staff to mitigate lines and keep the experience as short and sweet as possible.
“1 in 4 c-store shoppers visit c-stores to purchase fast food and grab-n-go meals.”
WHAT IT ALL MEANS FOR YOU
Elevate Your Offerings. Think healthier, fresher and higher quality. It’s up to you to decide what’s right for your business, but items like locally grown produce, prepared meals made with fresh ingredients and healthy snacks that incorporate unique and on-trend flavors will definitely draw more customers in. Especially when you consider that people choose their convenience store based on its food and drink options8. Not only that, elevated foodservice offerings that go beyond typical gas station fare can help you capture a bigger share of shoppers’ wallets2.
Up Your Grab-n-Go Game. With 1 in 4 c-store shoppers visiting c-stores to purchase fast food and grab-n-go meals5, now’s the time to think outside the microwave and roller grill box. Consider a made-to-order food station where customers can get burritos, sandwiches or burgers just the way they want. Or offer fresh salads with high-quality ingredients for today’s health-conscious connoisseurs. Whatever you choose, the better your food the busier you’ll be.
Think Like a Restaurant. With c-stores becoming so much more than gas station pit stops, it’s time to think more like a quick-service restaurant. Consider creating a customer-centric experience that focuses on quality, convenience and lifestyle3. Take time to come up with a menu strategy and develop a signature option to differentiate your food offerings. And, with foodservice being your biggest growth opportunity, let people know about all the good eats they can find at your store.
If you’d like to know more about how our expertise and premium proteins can differentiate your foodservice offerings, let’s chat. We’re happy to help in any way we can.
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