Global Flavors Entering C-Stores

Trend remains an opportunity for foodservice operations

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Global flavors continue to trend up in all segments of the foodservice industry, from full service to fast casual, quick service and even noncommercial. But there’s one area that has yet to fully capitalize on this opportunity: convenience stores. With the popularity of snacking continuing to escalate, c-stores have a unique advantage to offer these ethnic eats in portable, convenient form.

Asian Flavors

More consumers, and particularly younger millennials, are becoming more adventurous, willing to try foods in different flavors and forms. In c-stores, they’re looking for more than just the standard grab-and-go sandwiches, roller-grill hot dogs and mundane pizza slices.

Asian flavors in particular continue to bode well in all segments; in fact, they’ve become almost mainstream. They’re also growing in the c-store category.

“Forty-one percent of consumers are buying more c-store prepared items than two years ago, and one-third of those consumers say that is because c-stores are providing a higher-quality experience and more variety,” says Ann Golladay, senior project direct for Datassential. “The biggest increases in offered items since 2012 are ethnic foods such as egg rolls, empanadas and sushi, and there is a lot of room for growth with fresh and better-for-you items.”

The report also cites items that have high consumer interest but are less often menued in c-stores such as Asian rice bowls, hot soup and salad bars. Also, impulse purchases are frequent at c-stores. Forty-three percent of c-store visitors buy something that they hadn’t planned on, which is usually a snack. Packaging has an important and growing effect on attracting impulse purchases and should not be overlooked in efforts to increase prepared-item impulse buys.

IRI had similar findings. According to its State of the Snack Food report, sushi has seen incredible growth in the c-store arena, with a 13.1% dollar sales growth over other over other snack food items such as jerky (12.6%), bakery snacks (11.6%), breakfast wraps (10.3%), and even pastry items and doughnuts (5.6%).

Some c-stores have already responded to this, experimenting with more ethnic flavors by offering egg rolls warmed on existing roller grills. It makes sense, then, that Asian appetizers could fit well into this category, with potential dipping sauces and other condiments such as sriracha, soy sauce and hoisin sauces offered at an existing condiments station or bar customization. In fact, there was a 72% increase in sriracha mentions at c-stores over the past year, according to Technomic data outlined in CSP’s 2016 Foodservice Handbook.

Snacking Rises

Daily snacking continues to escalate among consumers, even outpacing food and beverage sales, with 2.9% dollar sales growth in the past year compared to 2.7%, according to IRI.

Younger consumers tend to snack more; many prefer to graze all day on quick bites and mini meals rather than sit down to three square meals.

According to IRI’s State of the Snack Food report, 41% of consumers report snacking at least three times a day, an 11-point increase since 2011. A majority (64%) of millennials say they snack at least three times a day, compared to 54% of older millennials.

Younger millennnials (36%) say they are snacking more frequently, with 30% eating preportioned snacks. Older millennials (36%) say they purchase snacks to take with them to work or school. Baby boomers still snack, but they seem to be cutting back.

The National Restaurant Association’s 2016 What’s Hot survey also found that grazing continues as a top trend. A majority (64%) of chefs surveyed view snacking and small plates as more popular than traditional meals.

According to IRI’s report, snacking occasions have increased in the afternoon (69%) and evening (55%) compared to other times of day, making lunch and dinner-food options, including savory appetizers, more enticing to consumers.

Portability plays a role in the snacking growth. According to Technomic, three-fifths of consumers (60%) cite portability as an important or extremely important reason for choosing a snack.

It’s no surprise, then, that among all Asian foods, sushi rolls, Chinese baos, egg rolls and other hand-held items seem to be faring best lately. Combining Asian flavors in portable snack form could just be the next profit-producing avenue in c-store foodservice.