As the convenience store food service landscape continues to shift, key drivers in food purchases are transparency in labeling, sustainable and healthly choices, quality and variety. What’s more, due to rising labor costs, automation is poised to become an increasing player in the food arena.
Here are five ways to build a better food service program in your store.
1. BETTER THE COMPETITION: According to a recent study, C-store respondents said that other c-stores are their biggest competition for food service dollars, but quick-service restaurants (QSR) and grocery stores were close behind. From the customer standpoint, food variety and quality were the top concerns when deciding where to purchase a meal. When not visiting a c-store, 58% visited a QSR for a meal and 40% for snacks. Why? The QSRs were seen as offering broader food variety (45%) and better food quality (37%).
2. KEEP IT ON THE GO: Grab-and-go foods are in high demand and many c-stores today offer an array of fresh cold and hot prepared options. A variety of fresh foods and beverages, that customers can customize to their needs and still exit the store in three minutes, signals quality to the customer. Traditional QSRs have fried foods and a limited menu. Only the fast casual channel has these “fresh” options, but customers pay a hefty price for the food. This gives c-stores a leg up on the grab-and-go competition. C-stores can further signal “quality” to customers through taste, appearance and packaging. One of the biggest things that can hurt quality perception is expired food.
Convenience stores have gotten better at discarding food to improve their image and position, but the segment still has a way to go. Savvy retailers know spoilage is a necessary part of the food service equation, and one to be included in P&L level plans. The study found the heaviest users of c-stores, males aged 18-34 and groups earning $75,000-$99,000 annually, used prepared foods more in the first half of 2016 compared to 2015. Some 23% of customer respondents visited a c-store for prepared foods and 16% for bakery items. Of grab-and-go/prepared food respondents, 61% knew what they planned to purchase before entering the store. While the drivers of c-store patronage have long been tobacco, alcohol and fuel, it is very encouraging that prepared food (not just dispensed beverages) is becoming one of the major influences of customer visits.
3. LIVE LOCAL: A trend toward local and sustainable foods, which has been more prominent on the both coasts, is expected to continue in 2017, migrating inward to middle America over the next few years.
This social consciousness movement is not a fad. Cage-free eggs, real sugar, no processed ingredients, locally-sourced produce, clean labels, environmentally-friendly packaging and sustainable sourcing and transparency are all tied into this movement. This movement is in part due to the generational demands, but also driven by the quickness in which society can learn about ingredients and food production. It’s time to acknowledge that consumption patterns and needs have changed.
4. EMBRACE HEALTHIER CHOICES: Another report found 68% of consumers would like to see more healthy claims on menus; 76% of 18–34 year olds would eat more prepared meals if they were less processed. The study found that finding better-for-you products at a c-store is important to 57% of customers. Furthermore, finding better-for-you options was more important to males ages 18-34—the most frequent c-store patrons—than the average consumer. So, what what does better-for-you options mean? The top better-for-you options include low calorie (38%), low fat (33%), fresh (33%) high protein (33%), prepared fresh onsite (31%), clean label (31%) and all-natural (27%).
5. THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX: The study showed almost 30% of c-store customers visited between 5 a.m.-11 a.m.—prime breakfast time. But customers aren’t only buying pastries and bagels with their morning coffee. Atlanta-based RaceTrac, which has more than 600 RaceTrac and RaceWay stores 12 southern states, recently revealed three out of five RaceTrac breakfast customers buy hot dogs over doughnuts in the morning!
 Q1 Consulting LLC’s recent study, “Capturing Opportunities in the Convenience Store Prepared Foods Channel, June 2016,” polled 250 retailers via phone and 1,000 customers online to determine the opportunities in foodservice.
 The International Dairy Deli-Bakery Association’s “What’s in Store 2017” report.
Information in this article adapted from CSD “Building A Better Foodservice Program”, February 3, 2017 Erin Rigik Del Conte
At PES Design Group, we are specialists in Restaurant, Food Service and C-store design and have a staff of knowledgeable consultants with over 25 years of experience in planning innovative, attractive, efficient and profitable C-store facilities. We will use our years of experience to design innovation and uniqueness into your project helping you to set yourself apart from the rest. We can provide you with a remodel design that will help you achieve a greater positive customer experience, top your competition and increase profits!
Don’t take our word for it! Visit our portfolio page at portfolio.pesdesigngroup.com for a list and photos of projects our consultants have done during their 25+ years in the C-store Design Industry as well as testimonials from very satisfied clients.
About the Consultant
Jim Richards (Sr) is a Principal Design Consultant and C-store Specialist with the PES Design Group, Midwest Office. During his 25 years of experience in the C-store Design Industry, Jim has designed many c-stores that are modern, innovative, efficient and most importantly… PROFITABLE.