5 Ways C-Stores Can Appeal to Shifting Health Concerns

Jill Failla, Editor, Technomic

Lady eating healthy food

CHICAGO -- Consumers aren’t just talking about health concerns these days, they’re actually buying more healthy food when dining out. Technomic’s upcoming 2016 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report reveals that 40% of consumers always or mostly purchase healthy items, up from 35% in 2014. Consumers still tend to think about ordering healthy items more than they actually order them, but this gap is narrowing.

As a result, convenience stores can expect to feel increased pressure for healthy foodservice options. A closer dive into the 2016 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report exposes five health concerns that are growing among consumers. C-stores will need to address these five concerns, in particular, to appeal to growing health demands …  

Axe the additives

Food additives

Now nearly half of consumers (47%), up from 40% in 2014, are more concerned about the additives in their food than they were two years ago. Women are especially concerned over additives, compared to men. C-stores trying to draw in more female customers may want to examine the cost vs. benefit of using additives in their prepared-food options. C-stores already offering additive-free fare should make sure that their customers know this through transparent labeling.  

Keep it real

Real food

Of natural and organic terms measured, “real” resonates with more consumers as a healthy descriptor now than it did in 2014. Real food is likely closely tied to additive-free food in consumers’ minds. Two-thirds of diners say they would be more likely to purchase food or beverages described as real. This is the driving force behind the appeal and success of “real food” marketing campaigns.

In one industry example, Louisville, Ky.-based Thorntons launched a “Real Kitchen. Real Food.” marketing campaign this summer at select c-stores that were revamped with a larger foodservice focus. “Real is powerful,” the company said. “To us, real means honest, trustworthy and authentic.” 

Reconsider premium pricing

Low cholesterol

More consumers now (83%) than two years ago (76%) consider low-cholesterol food to be healthy. Baby boomers are driving this perception, as they grow older and are required to maintain certain diets for health reasons. However, boomers are also the least likely of any generation to pay more for these claims. While 72% of boomers say that low-cholesterol claims would make them more likely to purchase food items, only 28% say they would pay more for them. C-stores should keep this in mind when pricing low-cholesterol food and snacks. 

Highlight what’s healthy

Low carb logo

The health perception of low-carb fare is rising, with 74% of consumers identifying low-carb callouts as healthy this year, compared to only 66% in 2014. Low-carb perception goes hand-in-hand with high-protein perception, and this year, consumers consider low-carb and high-protein callouts to be about equally as healthy. C-stores can consider leveraging applicable prepared-food ingredients already offered and simply reposition them in a special low-carb section of the menu, similar to what Rutter’s Farm Stores, York, Pa., currently does.

Ryan Krebs, Rutter's director of foodservice, told CSP Daily News a significant portion of clientele chooses from the low-carb menu when ordering from kiosks, which are currently available at 52 of 65 Rutter’s locations. Rutter’s also allows guests to select a “no bun” option or a low-carb bun alternative—such as its 100-calorie, low-carb roll—for most menu items on the kiosk. “It [Rutter’s low-carb menu] is just scratching the surface of healthier alternatives needed to satisfy the growing customer base looking for these options at convenience stores,” said Krebs. 

Calories count

GetFit diet options

More diners now (78%) than two years ago (72%) consider low-calorie food and beverages to be healthy. Likely in response to growing calorie transparency, diners are becoming wary of calorie-laden meals. While 71% of all consumers say they would be more likely to purchase food and beverages that are low in calorie, younger consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 are the most willing to spend extra money for these options.

Pittsburgh-based GetGo, which is winning younger clientele via its Cafe + Market format, debuted a "GetFit" menu this year that features 14 items under 400 calories. The menu consists of a range of flatbreads, salads, smoothies and steel-cut oatmeal.