2018 Foodservice Handbook: C-Stores Bring It Home

CHICAGO -- To keep up with the slippery definition of convenience and Amazon’s evolving portfolio of direct-to-consumer options, more c-stores are investing in delivery services. Retailers are developing mobile ordering and delivery apps, installing pickup counters in stores, offering meal kits and expanding partnerships with third-party delivery. Bringing food directly to customers’ doors could be the key to courting younger consumers, considering nearly half of Gen Zers say they order food for delivery at least once a week vs. 23% of consumers overall, according to Technomic’s 2017 Consumer Direct Study.

Here's a look at some of the highlights from the year in retail foodservice ...

Where the movement is

Retailer meal solutions (RMS) increasingly compete with traditional restaurants in the battle to steal share of foodservice dollars. Nearly half of all consumers say they are loyal to certain stores because of their prepared-food offerings, according to Technomic’s ­2017 Retailer Meal Solutions Consumer Trend Report. Technomic defines RMS as ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat prepared foods at retail stores. This may include items such as refrigerated foods, sandwiches, pizza and baked goods.

The future of c-store foodservice

Foodservice continues its winning streak with c-store retailers, with more than 40% of this segment in CSP’s most recent Outlook Survey indicating they plan to add or expand on their foodservice offerings next year. This is a noticeable dip from the 2016 Outlook Survey, in which nearly 60% of respondents said the same. But the decline could be attributed to the natural growth of foodservice as a long-trending profit driver. Coffee also emerged as an important profit center for retailers looking to add or change something in their business. It’s a logical trend, given the industry’s strides toward improving the perception of c-store coffee programs.

Upmarket eats

C-stores are catering to more affluent consumers with premium offerings, such as menu items with artisanal, local and clean labels. Some operators are even drawing inspiration from viral Instagram food trends. 7-Eleven and Wawa, however, are taking notes from Starbucks’ upscale Reserve brand, launching rare and specialty-grade coffee lines. Many retailers are also tiptoeing between healthy and indulgent. Farm 2 Counter in Springfield, Mo., offers The Turken Sandwich, which combines nitrate-free bacon stuffed inside chicken, stuffed inside turkey. This meat-heavy creation gives consumers an ethically sourced option with a dimly lit health halo.

Experiential dining

As customer trips continue to soften, operators are deploying more tricks to drive traffic to their stores. Outdoor eating areas, free Wi-Fi and training team members in hospitality are just the beginning. Next door to its c-store concept, The Pride Stores Inc. is working on launching a nanobrewery connected to its liquor-store offshoot and fast-casual restaurant. And via the addition of White Bison Coffee, Tri Star Energy’s Twice Daily c-store brand offers a coffeehouse experience complete with cold brew, nitro coffee, smoothies and more.

Better-for-you sales

Consumer interest in natural and organic fare has risen dramatically in recent years. Social-media aggregates show that each term has increased more than 300% in consumer discussions, postings and shares since 2011. Why do natural and organic resonate so strongly? The simple answer: Consumers believe these options are healthier.

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