Eight in 10 c-store operators report they’re investing in their foodservice programs, looking to raise the bar on prepared food and beverages to drive traffic, sales and profits. The decision to enhance their offering may be followed by recruitment of assorted culinary pros, the development of myriad new menu items and some spiffy new signage. But to truly realize the benefits of foodservice, should operators also be thinking about the stores themselves?
We at Technomic collaborated with award-winning retail branding and design agency Chute Gerdeman on a cutting-edge study to understand the role of store design and design elements in the success of convenience-store foodservice programs. The research focused on whether c-store design, décor and layout can help an operator satisfy evolving consumer demands and preferences for prepared foods and beverages, ultimately driving more customers through the door to purchase high-profit foodservice items.
The study, “Food-Forward C-Store Design,” involved an online survey designed to capture consumer reactions to different design concepts. Heat maps were used to allow respondents to indicate particularly appealing elements. The unique, interactive survey revealed some compelling insights.
Designs on New Customers
The first is that an elevated ambiance immediately enhances consumer perceptions of the store’s foodservice program. Design and décor elements such as comfortable seating and attractive color schemes proved more important than the food and beverage offerings in driving the overall appeal of the concepts.
Related to that, strategic c-store design conveys the message that fresh, high-quality and good-tasting food likely is available, and the prep and service areas likely are clean.
This held true whether the concepts involved made-to-order or self-service/grab-and-go offerings. Interestingly, older consumers (those over 25), who are more prone to have negative views of c-store food, were most likely to indicate the updated designs positively affected their perceptions and expectations of the foodservice offering.
Updated seating areas with features that encourage them to stay awhile, such as free Wi-Fi, and natural lighting also resonate with consumers. Also, consumers prioritize spacious seating areas with varied options.
Space and different types of seating enable easy movement between tables, as well as privacy for those dining alone or an opportunity for groups to sit together. What’s more, the updated design elements can enable c-stores to compete effectively with other foodservice providers. One consumer said of a warm, welcoming seating area concept, “It looks like you’re taking business away from cafés, restaurants and bars. It could become the new ‘hangout’ for young people.”
Another key finding concerned store layout. Consumers were clear on their preference for a dedicated foodservice preparation/service and dining area, situated separately from the retail area. Ease of navigation was prioritized as well. Clear signage that guides consumers to specific areas of the store based on their needs for the given occasion is important in meeting two key demands: convenience and speedy service.
By now you’re probably thinking, “That’s all great and fi ne for new builds, but I have a string of older locations, and just thinking about the time, money and effort needed to renovate gives me a migraine. What’s the payoff ?” To that I say: If you renovate it, it’s likely they will come. Just more than half of consumers polled said that if their favorite c-store were renovated to look like the store concepts shown, they would visit more often for foodservice. And the group most likely to do so are some of the toughest and most timepressed—but also potentially lucrative and loyal—shoppers: consumers ages 25 to 34.
Of course, renovations are costly and time-consuming. Upgrading to a food-forward store design requires a fundamental shift in culture and strategy within the organization that must start at the top, with upper management articulating and getting team buy-in on prioritizing foodservice.
If the study revealed anything, it’s that people do indeed eat with their eyes. Give your great new menu items the best opportunity to reach their sales potential by showcasing them in the most appealing, updated store environment.
For more information about “Food-Forward C-Store Design,” contact Donna Hood Crecca at Technomic at email@example.com or Amanda Seevers at Chute Gerdeman firstname.lastname@example.org.
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