4 Ways Retailers Can Attract Hungry Patrons

By 
Brett Dworski, Associate Editor

hot food

CHICAGO -- Prepared foods are booming in convenience stores. According to Technomic’s new 2017 RMS Consumer Trend Report, since 2015, c-store sales of prepared foods have grown nearly 8%, and the amount of menu offerings have increased by 21%—a significant surge unseen in restaurants. Consumers are also increasingly visiting c-stores solely to purchase prepared foods, which may be contributing to greater brand loyalty, the report says.

Here are some tips to help c-store retailers enhance their prepared-foods sections in 2018, as stated in Technomic’s report ...

1. Keep an eye on snacking

cstore food

Snacking is on the rise. Per the Technomic report, 70% of consumers say they typically purchase snacks at retailers at least once a month, a 3% increase from 2015. Moreover, snacking is the leading occasion for prepared foods on a weekly basis, with midafternoon (53%) and evening (28%) occasions the most common snacking dayparts. It’s possible snacking may be driving impulse purchases among consumers, because 62% of prepared foods purchases are impulse buys.

In one example, Pittsburgh c-store chain GetGo focuses on a variety of fresh foods and beverages, and its Fresh-to-Go grab-and-go case offers prepackaged snacks and meals to consumers.

2. Increase made-to-order offerings

hot cstore food

More than a third of consumers (35%) say they’d be more inclined to purchase prepared foods if retailers guaranteed that the items were made fresh that day. Consequently, c-stores are increasingly offering made-to-order options.

In July, Circle K’s Midwest division, based in Columbus, Ind., opened three new c-stores in Indiana and Ohio that focused on fresh, made-to-order menu items. These included burritos, pizza and doughnuts, as well as the Polar Pop fountain beverage and fresh-brewed tea.

3. Promote sustainability

cstore packaged food

Roughly 44% of consumers—an increase from 40% in 2015—say it’s important that retailers offer sustainable items and ingredients. Consumers even value sustainable packaging more in 2017, with 48% of consumers—a 5% increase from 2015—saying microwave-safe packaging is either important or extremely important in their decision to purchase prepared foods from a retailer.

In November, 7-Eleven launched another single-origin, sustainable coffee product. Like its other coffees from Nicaragua and Mexico, this Peru-originated brew is Rainforest Alliance Certified. This certification means 7-Eleven’s coffee is sourced from farms that protect the environment, conserve wildlife and promote the well-being of local communities.

4. Make the experience noteworthy

cstore interior

About 65% of consumers say that the decor and atmosphere of the prepared-foods section is important in their decision to purchase prepared foods from a retailer, according to the report. Because store presentation drives cravings and purchasing decisions, a clean, enjoyable ambiance may provide an opportunity for retailers to position themselves as dining destinations where consumers can relax and socialize.

Earlier this year, Quicklee’s replaced its Avon, N.Y., store with its first truckstop. Besides the traditional c-store and prepared-foods sections, the truckstop features a fireplace and sofa seating area with TV, laundromat, four private showers, multiple restrooms and a truck maintenance facility. Although the focus still is to provide an efficient, quick shopping experience, Quicklee is encouraging patrons to stay a while and make the truckstop their destination, says Ken Perelli, the chain’s vice president.