What Consumers Really Think About C-Store Food

SAN DIEGO -- With the many culinary delights on convenience-store menus today—Brazilian fruit bowls, Neapolitan pizza, lobster seafood rolls—it can be difficult to gauge where the public stands with c-store eats. To give c-stores an update on customers' values and concerns, consulting firm TrendSource Inc., San Diego, surveyed more than 2,000 consumers for its 2018 Convenience Store Report.

Read on to find out what customers really think about c-store grub …

Winning hearts and stomachs

As the saying goes, good relationships are built on a foundation of trust. That maxim is true for c-store customers as well. However, about 49% of survey respondents said they have only "moderate trust" in the prepared foods they find in c-stores. Nearly 10% of participants said they do not trust it at all, and less than 3% said they have complete trust in c-store food.

However, some parts of the country put a little more faith in their c-stores' menus than others. Rural consumers have the greatest trust in c-store foodservice, compared to urban dwellers and suburbanites.

Unsurprisingly, regulars are a bit less timid around roller-grill hot dogs and other convenient bites than occasional visitors. Consumers who make c-store purchases only while traveling are about 10% less likely to have moderate trust in the safety and quality of the food compared to monthly visitors, according to the report.

Fighting a bad reputation

Although many convenience-store foodservice programs are blurring the lines of restaurant and convenience with made-to-order offerings, shaking the stigma of c-store food is not easy. Nearly a quarter of respondents said they were not at all interested in elevated food options, and only 25% were only slightly interested, according to the report.

Easing into elevated fare

Many foodservice trends are geared to millennials. But as some casual-dining chains can attest to, catering to young consumers can frustrate foodservice operations’ traditional customer base. For instance, last summer Applebee’s dropped some of its trendier menu items and announced that it would no longer try to woo millennials, marking a return to its middle America roots. The report’s data supports this phenomenon, with the most infrequent customers far less likely to purchase finer fare in c-stores than the most frequent.

“Stores that cater to a more urban (hipster) crowd should consider incrementally rolling out such concepts at a measured pace, so as to avoid alienating their existing base,” the report says.