A glimpse of the attendees wearing everything from suits to blue jeans at this major national conference is immediate evidence of the diversity of offerings found in today’s convenience stores.
The U.S. convenience store industry has over 151,000 stores and accounts for nearly $700 billion in sales. More and more time-starved consumers are turning to convenience retail operations for on-the-go meals and snacks. The industry continues to evolve fron gas stations that happen to sell food to food retailers that happen to sell gas
- While convenience stores have offered fresh, prepared foods for years, it is only over
the last decade that the trend has accelerated. Food prepared on-site accounts for more than 62% of total foodservice sales.
- The trend toward quality fresh food programs and trusted brands continues to grow.
- Foodservice can deliver new customers inside the store, and at a higher profit level
Fresh Foodservice is Hot
Even in c-stores where quick service is critical to success, consumers are craving a fresh experience that they can customize to their taste. Competition with quick service and fast casual restaurants is causing leading c-stores to continuously review and improve their foodservice offerings. Look for greater variety in condiments and toppings for sandwich items and fresh produce packages to-go. Examples from the show floor include specialty mustards, wasabi and sriracha sauces.
Anywhere Anytime Snacks
Snacking has become a way of life with American consumers and c-stores are top of mind destinations for snacking. A recent survey by the Culinary Visions® Panel shows convenience stores as the top choice for snacking among millennial consumers followed by quick service restaurants.
Dipping has become a favorite for adults and kids alike with many products deconstructing a handheld product or creating a new package that is self-contained for dipping convenience. Examples include Oreo® churros with a separate container of vanilla dipping sauce and Nutella® packaged with breadsticks for dipping. Vegetables with ranch dip and apple slices
with caramel dipping sauce have become standard fare.
From gourmet flavors to heritage ingredients, many of the items seen on the show floor were similar to those seen at gourmet and fancy food shows. Beef jerky, for example, now comes in gourmet flavors like chili lime and jerky may be made from game meats and salmon.
Health and Indulgence on the Run
C-store customers can have it all with everything from chia seed bites to cake balls on the run. The scales were balanced with a wide range of offerings at both ends of the spectrum. Classic comfort foods converted for handheld convenience were a big draw, including sausage and gravy stuffed biscuits and mac and cheese bites.
Making a Splash with Kids
Kid-friendly flavor shots for milk are adding a cool factor with colorful graphics that would appeal even to grown-ups. Flavored waters provide a more healthful alternative to other beverages choices.
Baby Bites and Bold Flavors
Small is big in c-stores with tempting bite size portions of classic dessert items like pumpkin pie and cheesecake. Stuffed hash brown potatoes turn a delicious but messy side dish into a handheld pop of flavor.
Restaurant trends are making their way into c-stores as well. High protein Greek yogurt is coming on strong as a breakfast and snack item. Organic milk protein shakes tout a healthful recovery to maintain peak performance. Oatmeal cups with gourmet flavors are positioned as a healthful, high fiber alternative to doughnuts. There is no end to the appeal of energy shots for a quick boost, yet new shots claim enhanced focus or even calming effects.
Taste Talk Tweet
The talk on Twitter centered on new flavors and line extensions for snacks, such as crispy M&M®’s in 180-calorie packs, PB&J flavored Jones soda, and juice-infused waters with health halo claims like “purify” and “cleanse.” Energy drink companies also touted their product innovations, like new fruit juice and punch flavors, new packaging and reformulations for zero-calorie and no sugar products. If you want to follow our observations in real time go to http://twitter.com/OlsonComm. The next conference we will cover is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food and Nutrition Conference, October 18-21, 2014.
Implications for the Manufacturer
- Line Extensions Energize Brands. Successful new products in the c-store market are often line extensions rather than innovations from a blank slate. Line extensions that offer new flavor profiles can build a mature category and infuse it with new energy.
- Merchandise Fresh. Fresh has become the most powerful way of communicating quality to consumers.
- Laser Sharp Customer Focus. C-store customers are unique to each community, and there is no one-size-fits-all loyalty program. The best loyalty programs are invisible to the market at large, but direct and highly relevant to customers they target.
- Hyper-Choice Can Inhibit Trial. Although consumers crave new products, offering too many at one time detracts from quick decision making and encourages customers to choose tried and true favorites.