Category Management Handbook

Foodservice at a Crossroads

Operators work to meet rising expectations and fight tough competition

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.” 

Menu Trends


Shelf Stable

CMOY: Andre Benoit

View the full 2016 Category Management Handbook

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a CSP member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


Looking Up: Limited-Time Offers on the Rise

These deals continue to grow in all mealparts, Technomic reports show

Company News

Knowing Growing: QuikTrip Flexes in 2023

C-store chain celebrates 1,000th opening, opens 13th medical clinic, more


Get Creative in Foodservice to Thrive in 2024, Technomic Says

Report: Operators must lean into tech, menu and service innovation, take advantage of existing ingredients and resources


More from our partners