CHICAGO — No matter what market convenience-store retailers operate in, they’ve had to lean into technology and make significant changes to their business and lifestyle in the last year and a half to navigate these unprecedented times, Leroy Kelsey said.
Kelsey, director of research at NACS, and Mark Meisner, director of marketing and advertising with Kwik Trip Inc., spoke Tuesday at the NACS Show in Chicago about how retailers can leverage evolving trends coming out of COVID-19 and use them to grow their business.
C-store chains, like Kwik Trip, La Crosse, Wis., saw trips decrease but basket size increase amid the pandemic—and basket size is still growing today, Meisner said.
So how can c-stores evolve their trip drivers now? Here are some tips from Kelsey and Meisner:
Capitalize on Quick Trips
When NACS asked customers, “Which of these statements best describes your trip today?” the top answer in 2020 and 2021 was “quick trip to pick something up.” About 46% of respondents chose this statement—which was more than two times more than 2019 results, Kelsey said.
In 2021, only 12% and 13% picked commuting to home from work/school and commuting from home to work/school as the reason for what drove their trip.
Provide Dinner Options
About 71% of Americans plan to continue to cook and create meals at home, Kelsey said.
“So what can we do? We can help them find value in terms of ingredients,” he said. “We can inspire them, in terms of pairings…and we can provide the meals themselves, whether it’s fresh chicken, pizza, take-home meals—there’s a huge opportunity for us.
Kwik Trip launched take-home meals about a year ago, and while supply chain and staffing shortages make it challenging, the program is doing well, Meisner said.
“We thought take home meals prior to COVID would be a great way to boost the [evening daypart.] Trying to get in that extra stop before the end of the day,” Meisner said.
The freshly prepared meals are shipped to Kwik Trip and Kwik Star stores daily and sell for $4.99 to $6.99, he said. Kwik Trip has also worked with brands like Molson Coors, Chicago, to pair a take-home meal with a six-pack of beer.
Where to Focus Mobile
When it comes to c-store shopper’s most desired digital fulfillment services, mobile order for curbside pickup and mobile order for in-store pickup are the most probable and impactful near-term, Kelsey said. More than 33% of respondents to a NACS survey between July 15 and Sept. 5 said they preferred mobile order for curbside and in-store pickup. That was followed by mobile order for drive-thru pickup (32%), order at the pump for delivery to car (28%) and order at the pump for in-store pickup (25%), according to NACS data.
Emphasize Packaged Beverages
Packaged beverages have more appeal throughout COVID-19, and that trend is likely to continue, Kelsey said. Sales in segments like ready-to-drink coffee soared as shoppers leaned into packaged beverage over dispensed. Functional beverages are also satisfying the demand for healthier options as people look to get more out of their drinks, he said.
Kwik Trip saw massive growth in energy drinks over the past year, Meisner said. The category is up about 40%, he said.