C-stores are a foodservice force

Discussion
Feb 10, 2015

Back in late 2013, the Hartman Group advised on how convenience stores could overtake restaurants in popularity as food destinations with a formula of easy, quick and accessible meals.

Hartman began with the need for convenience stores to overcome the perception that restaurant food was tastier, primarily because of its freshness. Convenience stores were advised to focus on delivering fresh, healthy food, ready for immediate consumption, quickly prepared (and customized) in front of customers — primarily young men and solitary diners. The firm also suggested convenience stores upgrade their décor to help make the customer experience more enjoyable.

Early last year, Technomic published research showing c-stores were upping their foodservice games. Darren Tristano, EVP, pointed to stores replacing hot dogs and pizza with "significantly improved quality and taste, a more customized, higher-quality, and broader menu selection along with healthy food."

Wawa, Sheetz, Quick Trip, Stripes, and Kwik Trip earned high marks across all of Technomic’s categories. Large and small, convenience stores were proving a convenient alternative to both fast food and quick service restaurant competition.

According to a late December The Wall Street Journal article, NPD Group found convenience stores had made many of the changes recommended by Hartman and were becoming a bigger force in the foodservice market. The number of meals served at convenience stores in the 12 months ended August 2014 grew 3.1 percent year-over-year, compared with a 0.4 percent decline at fast food and casual dining restaurants, according to NPD.

Are c-stores primed for more foodservice market share growth in the years ahead? What factors do you see driving or slowing the channel’s momentum?

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17 Comments on "C-stores are a foodservice force"

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Steve Montgomery
Guest
2 years 10 months ago
C-stores will continue to improve their foodservice offerings. Why? It’s simple—customer demand and industry economics. People don’t want a nitrogen flush sandwich with a 21-day shelf life. They want fresher products. It is great if it’s also healthier, but it has to be fresh. The concept of fresh has evolved in the consumer mind and c-store offerings. Many c-stores now make their foodservice items on-site and/or made to order. Customers are responding because c-stores offer very fast service for these items at a lower cost than many of the alternatives. The second reason is the industry economics. Fuel has become… Read more »
Ian Percy
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

Absolutely they are, IF they follow Hartman-style advice. Hopefully we’re far past the old days of the hot dogs condemned to spin on those roller things for days on end.

Having said that, I’m not inclined (short of being near starvation) to buy a plastic-wrapped sandwich that came from goodness knows where either. Any lunch item that makes you check a Best Before date should be banned. But if there was a counter with a nice person quickly making a sandwich for me with really good bread—I’m in.

Frank Riso
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

C-stores will continue to do well with foodservice. I think in many parts of the country there are no quick-service restaurants and the c-store can offer more items. Many stores like Wawa and Sheetz are near highways and offer food and fuel in one stop so they do well with foodservice items. They also offer clean stores and clean restrooms (another feature we relate to the quick-service restaurants). Space set aside with tables and chairs has not worked well for c-stores.

Herb Sorensen
Guest
2 years 10 months ago
C-Stores are primed to play a MUCH larger role in global retail, with foodservice being just one of their strengths. It is a fact that supermarkets themselves are simply c-stores with big, floppy long tails. Bear in mind that half of all supermarket shoppers buy five or fewer items, with one or two being the most common number. The store uses that big floppy long tail to suppress sales among their c-store cohort, and the big head items they mostly want to buy. In their single-minded focus on stock-up shoppers, supermarkets have allowed their focus to strangle 50 percent of… Read more »
Paul Conley
Guest
Paul Conley
2 years 10 months ago

I suspect that older folks (like me) find the idea of getting fresh food from a c-store a bit unlikely. But we’re wrong. Young adults in particular don’t have such preconceived notions. And they’re finding today’s c-stores to be perfectly appropriate places to buy healthy snacks, fresher foods and prepared meals. As more Generation Y- and Generation Z-aged adults start families of their own, the potential of c-stores to get a bigger share of the meal budget is quite high. C-stores, like so much of America, ain’t what they were years ago. And that’s a good thing.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
Guest
2 years 10 months ago
The simple answer is YES—followed by some important IFs. All Americans are time-starved, so convenience is a prime factor. C-stores are definitely positioned to be at the top of the list in terms of convenient locations. But if the customer has to wait in line behind customers buying gas and cigarettes, all bets are off. Three of the biggest IFs for c-stores are the quality, variety and freshness. One of the greatest challenges c-stores face is to get people from the gas pump to inside of the store. If c-stores can serve quality, fresh food items they could have a… Read more »
Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
2 years 10 months ago
Absolutely. I am currently analyzing data from a national survey of Millennials. My findings are similar to those reported here. C-stores are visited more often by Millennials for food than any other foodservice restaurant type (burgers, chicken, fast casual, etc.). My findings indicate that c-stores are not only a challenge to foodervice establishments but also to regular supermarkets, organic/specialty and even upscale food retailers. One-third of my respondents indicated that they purchased prepared foods from a c-store in the past thirty days. As expected, their monthly visits were significantly higher than those of other traditional food retail channels. However, the… Read more »
J. Kent Smith
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

For sure. The biggest task is to overcome the existing branding, especially in areas where excellent chains like WaWa haven’t already conditioned customers. Other chains still look locked in the the old world. It will take more than adding one of those hot dog rolling racks. It will take the right product, right store design, right marketing, right staff, etc. How many can make this shift? Unclear. But in a world of survival of the fittest the choice to do it isn’t so much an option.

Dan Raftery
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

This is certainly good news for those c-store operators who have awoken to the needs of their shoppers. But it is only news to the chain operators. Independents have been doing this for years, especially those located in out-of-the-way vacation areas. Setting aside the importance of gasoline sales to the bottom line, I’ve long been puzzled by chain operators’ often public lament, “how do we get non-smokers to come inside?” The answer means a bigger investment in qualified in-store personnel than has been typical. As a traveler, I’m personally glad to see these options available more often.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

I think there is nothing but opportunity for c-stores here, especially with some of the healthy alternatives they offer on their menus. As long as the food is of high quality, prepared quickly and is a good value, the c-stores’ locations will make it a hit.

Bill Davis
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

Possibly, but I would have to think quality falls off to some degree. I personally don’t eat convenience store food so maybe it is because the quality in my area isn’t as high as in some other places.

Gordon Arnold
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

What a very good example of how a retail business listens to the market and adapts the core business plan to the needs, wants and ability to pay for product(s) and service(s). This should be mandatory hourly reading for the majority of fast food supplier think tanks out there.

Shep Hyken
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

The c-store has transformed itself little by little over the years. The more progressive stores are now competing with gas stations, grocery stores (for limited selections of staple and snack items) and quick serve restaurants. The best a c-store used to offer was a microwaved frozen sandwich or a six-hour-old hot dog. Today you can get fresh sandwiches, and some stores have partnered with recognized brands.

Lee Kent
Guest
2 years 10 months ago
The c-store industry continues to amaze me. After many years of same ole same ole, they got with the program, learned who their real customer was and created whole new experiences. I enjoy running in when I stop for gas on the road. The places are clean, the food looks good and I can get some water for the rest of the trip. Just don’t be in a hurry during the early morning hours. Construction and other day workers learned long before me that the c-store is the place to load up on their food and drink for the day.… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

C-stores still have a way to go before the general consuming public accepts their product as safe and somewhat nutritional. They have the old rap of the hot dog on a roller thing looking like you have to be starved to eat it. Once they can convince us the product is fresh and tasty they might have a chance of growing their market share. Until then, I don’t buy much more than water and a newspaper.

Roger Saunders
Guest
2 years 10 months ago
C-stores can make this a winner, as has been the experience of Sheetz, Wawa, and numerous independents around the country. Those operators have been successful based on location, convenience, and acceptable quality for a busy consumer who is in transition. Few of them are capturing these register rings because a customer has made the decision to go out to dinner that evening at a c-store. Important to focus on the first three items if the c-store operator is going into this line extension for their box. Don’t count on a large enough volume of customers walking into the store just… Read more »
vic gallese
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

Not happening until someone really gets serious about food service in general.
Lots of talk, not much action.

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