Younger consumers have little doubt that convenience stores can deliver on fresh, restaurant-quality food. The challenge now? They expect c-stores to keep getting better at it, says Donna Hood Crecca, senior director for Chicago-based foodservice research and consulting firm Technomic Inc.
“Continual improvement in terms of quality, taste, freshness and health of prepared food and beverage is key for c-stores in 2016, because while younger consumers are engaged in c-store foodservice, their expect- ations around those attributes are high,” she says.
In a competitive field of QSRs, cafés and other convenience stores, operators that want to do more than simply keep up have to make foodservice a priority from the top, Crecca says.
The breakfast day-part is drawing some fierce competition. Retailers from Starbucks to Taco Bell are pursuing consumers who increasingly make a breakfast stop part of their daily routine. Driven by busy schedules and interesting menus, more than one-third of consumers say they are eating breakfast away from home more often now than they did a year ago.
“This indicates that they need convenient breakfast solutions and are seeking both unique and familiar options,” Crecca says. Crecca points out some major trends.
“Better-for-you” and “better-for-the-planet” foods
Non-GMO, sustainable and additive-free score well with foodservice consumers these days. “This is an area where c-store operators can and should leverage supplier and distributor partnerships,” Crec- ca says.
Hot gets hotter
The term “spicy” saw a 14% jump on c-store menus last year, accord- ing to Technomic’s MenuMonitor. And while Sriracha poured on the heat (a 72% jump in menu incidence in the past two years), oper- ators across foodservice are taking spice to a new level with ingredients such as ghost peppers, harissa and sambal.
The elevation of so-called “peasant foods”
Simple comfort foods such as meat- balls, sausages, cheesy breads, dumplings and bao buns are on trend, and that’s good news for c-stores. “A lot of these items lend themselves to hand-helds, so [they] are perfect for the on-the-go dining occasion and can give c-stores a competitive edge through innovation,” Crecca says.
Don’t overlook indulgence
Health and flavor trends may be driving menus overall, but “the dichotomy of the c-store foodservice consumer is that they seek both healthy and indulgent items,” Crecca says. “So innovation on both fronts is crucial today.”