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C-Stores React to Coronavirus Threat

New report shows one-third of consumers plan to leave the house and dine out less often than usual
Photograph: Shutterstock

CHICAGO — Nearly half (46%) of convenience-store operators said they were not yet concerned about COVID-19—also known as the coronavirus—as of Feb. 28, according to a CSP retailer poll.

But a lot can change in a week.

Since the release of the poll, CSP has spoken with multiple c-store retailers who are implementing precautionary procedures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in their stores.

One retailer told CSP that the chain developed a long coronavirus checklist for employees, including steps for cleaning fuel hoses after every transaction and cleaning the coffee bar.

Another retailer said she's heard that upper management at the company has established precautionary measures against the virus, but specifics were yet to come. Yet for the most part, everything remains business as usual, the retailer said.

“Nothing has closed,” the retailer said. “No day-to-day has changed for us, from what I've been told.”

Both retailers requested anonymity in discussing these changes.

  • For daily updates on the coronavirus, click here to view the World Health Organization COVID-19 Situation Dashboard and click here to view the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 Situation Summary.

For retailers engaged in foodservice, the coronavirus offers multiple challenges, given the strong human element inherent in both preparing meals and the act of dining outside the home, presenting both supply and demand issues for the industry, according to a new white paper by CSP’s sister research firm, Technomic.

Consumers are concerned: More than three in 10 consumers (32%) said they plan on leaving the house less often, not visiting foodservice establishments as often or not ordering food or beverages at away-from-home venues as often because of the outbreak. Beyond that, 31% of these consumers said this absence will last one to three months, according to the report.

The risk of encountering sick employees is keeping consumers away from foodservice establishments. Eighty-four percent of consumers said they agree that foodservice operators should offer time off to their sick employees—higher than any other statement, according to Technomic. This outpaced ensuring operators carefully wash food and utensils (58%) and operating “just like business as usual” (37%).

Despite the data, it’s still too early to tell how the virus will affect the foodservice industry because the number of coronavirus cases in the United States is still limited, Technomic said. The number of U.S. cases is currently 129, according to the World Health Organization.

“There are some very big unknowns relative to what impacts the coronavirus will have on the U.S. economy overall and, specifically, to foodservice at this point,” Technomic said.

Click here to read the complete Technomic white paper.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidance for businesses to plan for and respond to the coronavirus, including encouraging sick employees to stay home, providing tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles and routinely cleaning all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace.

The Food Marketing Institute has also released new materials for its members to assist the food industry’s preparedness planning for COVID-19 via a Coronavirus Preparedness Checklist and Coronavirus and Pandemic Preparedness for the Food Industry guide.

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