More consumers want meals on the go, so convenience stores are responding in kind, with more choices and fresh and healthy fare.
Younger customers, especially, are turning to convenience stores for food.
Convenience stores for Millennials, ages 18 to 34, are nearly twice as important as fast-casual restaurants, according to the NPD Group. As reported in USA Today, convenience stores made up 11.1 percent of that demographic’s food and beverage stops last year, compared with 7.7 percent in 2006.
Convenience stores are stealing customers from big grocery stores, too, offering more retail opportunities.
In addition, according to the Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing, known as NACS, retailers find that food not only brings customers in, but offers them a higher profit margin than gasoline.
Here are some things to think about when offering food choices to your customers.
‘Fresh’ and ‘fast’ help market your prepared food
NACS says many convenience stores have broadened their fare to offer hot and cold foods, such as deli sandwiches, flatbreads, subs, breakfast sandwiches, burgers, pizza, chicken sandwiches, salads, soups and wraps.
The words “fresh” and “fast” might mean more than a brand name when it comes to naming your store’s food operation, according to a survey reported in Convenience Store News.
Among the 795 shoppers surveyed at first, more preferred a generic name such as Fast, Fresh Shop over a name that incorporated the store brand or a playful derivation of the brand name. But a further survey showed the brand mattered, too.
A new survey of 800 shoppers offered an additional name option – one that incorporated Fresh and Fast as well as the store’s brand name. That’s the one they liked best, over the generic Fresh and Fast name.
“For many, adding the retailer’s brand actually built trust in the food,” according to the report by Christopher Quam of General Mills Convenience and Foodservice.
Groceries and healthy choices appeal to shoppers
A convenience-store food and market enterprise is a promising one. According to a recent NPR story, convenience stores are among those taking market share from traditional grocery stores.
As more people shop for food at convenience stores, there’s a call for them to stock food that’s more healthful. In Washington, D.C., the nonprofit D.C. Central Kitchen is enabling the stocking of fruits and vegetables in these stores to help neighborhoods eat better. The Healthy Corners program even pays for the veggies that go bad, The Atlantic reports.
Health advocates are advising folks to keep an eye out for snacks that fit the “fresh” moniker when they shop at convenience stores. Cooking Light suggested that readers look for whole grain cereal cups, energy bars, peanuts in the shell, low-fat yogurt, vegetable juice, trail mix, carrots, fresh fruit cups, part skim string cheese sticks and bananas.
Highlighting these choices helps customers realize how much convenience stores have broadened their fare.
It’s not just coffee anymore
With competition from gourmet coffee hotspots to doughnut shops, convenience stores have to keep up with their coffee offerings, too. Customers want “blends that focus on freshness, flavor and quality,” NACS says, not to mention options for customizing their cup, from creamers to flavor shots to toppings.
Hot tea and specialty coffee, such as cappuccino, “deliver high margins for retailers,” according to NACS.
When it comes to cold drinks, which are offered in 94 percent of convenience stores, businesses are offering more choices with healthy, natural ingredients alongside traditional soft drinks. And some offer a softer ice cube called a “nugget” or “chewy ice,” NACS reports, because some customers like to chew the ice when they’ve finished their drink.
Your food operation isn’t just about speed these days. It’s about fresh flavors and lots of choices to satisfy thrifty but discerning consumers.