CHICAGO — Aside from fuel, consumers have purchased more food and beverages than any other item from a convenience store during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report from CSP’s sister research firm, Technomic, Chicago.
Still, c-store operators must prepare for new systems and habits as new COVID-19 cases increase.
“Prepare for the future and think about what foodservice will look like moving forward,” Technomic said. “Preparing for a second possible COVID-19 peak in the fall or winter should be a part of operators’ immediate action plans.”
In its C-Store Consumer MarketBrief for second-quarter 2020, Technomic addressed the effect of COVID-19 on c-store visit frequency and foodservice purchasing behaviors. Technomic also looked at anticipated consumers behaviors, exploring what may or may not change once the pandemic slows and restrictions are lifted.
Here are four insights on c-store frequency and foodservice purchasing behaviors amid the coronavirus pandemic …
Foodservice visitation looks promising
Although 69% of consumers said they’ve visited convenience stores less often than usual during the pandemic, their outlook for c-store foodservice is positive. More than half (54%) said that they plan on visiting c-stores for foodservice in a post-pandemic world, while 77% said they would do so at least once a month, according to Technomic. These numbers are on par with what consumer engagement with c-store foodservice was prior to the pandemic, Technomic said.
“Similar to general visit frequency, consumers expect to visit c-stores for foodservice purchases just as often as they did before the outbreak, once society begins to normalize,” Technomic said. “Overall, 75% of consumers indicated that they anticipate getting back to their typical foodservice purchasing behaviors at c-stores within a month of the government saying it’s okay to resume activities as normal.”
C-stores more ideal than supermarkets
Of the 11% of consumers who said they’ve visited convenience stores more often during the pandemic, 42% have done so because they believe c-stores are the most convenient option for foodservice at this moment—higher than any other reason, according to Technomic. This was followed by c-stores being stocked better than grocery stores (39%), c-stores being convenient for grocery items (38%), c-stores being safer than grocery stores (37%) and c-stores being safer than restaurants (32%).
“The smaller and more in-and-out nature of c-stores is likely driving [the increase] as c-stores may seem less intimidating than grocery stores, which may attract many people,” Technomic said. “Convenience is especially key for older consumers as they are at greater risk than younger consumers when leaving the house.”
The future of self-serve
While many convenience-store operators have halted self-serve food and beverages during the pandemic, consumer intent to purchase self-serve formats post-pandemic is high. More than two-thirds (70%) said that they are likely to return to self-serve formats for items they typically purchase from c-stores, according to Technomic. Self-serve coffee and fountain beverages (75%) led the way, followed by self-dispensed frozen drinks (74%), self-serve bakery items (73%), roller grill items (72%) and food condiments (69%).
“Most consumers are likely to return to the self-serve items that they previously purchased once the outbreak subsides,” Technomic said. “Implementing sanitation practices and possibly touch-free dispensers wherever possible will be key in helping consumers feel safe and comfortable when interacting with [self-serve] foodservice.”
Delivery and curbside pickup need a boost
Convenience-store operators need to boost their mobile ordering, delivery and curbside pickup capabilities. While 35% of consumers said that they have used c-store delivery in the past, only 22% said they have continued to do so since their first time, according to Technomic. On the opposite end, 41% of consumers said that they have never used and will never use c-store delivery.
Same goes for curbside pickup. Although 32% of consumers said that they have used c-store curbside pickup in the past, only 20% said they have continued to do so since their first time, according to Technomic. About 34% said that they have never used and will never use c-store curbside pickup.
“At a minimum, curbside pickup should be offered,” Technomic said. “Many operators were looking into curbside pickup and delivery before the coronavirus outbreak; however, these amenities are likely to become an expectation moving forward. Right now, these offerings serve as a lifeline that can help stores ride out the pandemic and serve their communities.”