CHICAGO — If the past year proved anything, it’s that convenience stores can and will continue to compete with restaurants in a relentless foodservice battle. Retailers are optimistic about this: Eighty-nine percent of them expect their foodservice sales to grow in 2020, according to an annual convenience-market report by CSP’s sister research firm, Technomic, Chicago.
“The definition of convenience is now broadening to include the emergence of third-party delivery, frictionless service elements and tech-enabled, speedier checkouts,” Technomic said in the report. “Taken together, retailers that are able to execute on these new expectations stand to reap the rewards of increased traffic and sales.”
C-store foodservice trends span beyond technology and speed of service, though. Consumers are seeking newer foods at nontraditional times now more than ever before, which is molding how they shop for food and how c-store retailers will run their foodservice operations.
Here are seven c-store foodservice trends that will shape 2020 …
The number of food and beverage menu entrees available at c-stores has decreased more than 5% in the past year, according to Technomic. Specifically, sandwiches have decreased nearly 37% and sides have dropped more than 12%. While sandwiches, Mexican fare, pizza, hot dogs and burgers are thriving, this decrease hints that operators are focusing on flagship items instead of a wide variety of offerings, according to Technomic.
“This signals a movement toward signature items and true menu standouts rather than promotion of a sprawling menu that offers something for everyone,” Technomic said.
While healthy eating isn’t new, it isn’t slowing down. Nearly two-thirds of consumers (63%) said they want c-stores to offer more healthy foods, and 46% of these patrons are seeking healthy options more than they were two years ago, according to Technomic. Beyond that, 50% of consumers said they would visit c-stores more often if they offered healthy food and drink options.
“The desire for better-for-you foods is stronger among a young millennial and Gen Z customer base, but general expectations for fresher, cleaner foods are heightening across demographics,” Technomic said.
Don’t forget about indulgence
More than half (51%) of consumers said c-stores excel at offering indulgent items, according to Technomic. Additionally, 33% said c-stores do a better job of offering indulgent food and drink than fast-food restaurants do. The same percentage also said they would visit c-stores more often if more indulgent snacks, drinks and other foods were available.
“Ice cream, doughnuts, cookies, dessert-style coffees, pizza—these and other high-calorie, sweet, crispy and cheesy favorites still claim a greater share of c-store foodservice purchases compared to healthier items,” Technomic said.
Breakfast remains a staple
Even as dayparts blend, breakfast remains an essential occasion for c-stores. Ninety percent of c-store operators serve breakfast, and nearly two-fifths (37%) of operators expect breakfast to hit the highest rate of sales growth among the dayparts during the next year, according to Technomic. Sausage and egg breakfast sandwiches grew on 11% of c-store menus in 2019, the report said.
Midmorning snacks are rising
Nearly three-quarters (73%) of c-store operators offer midmorning snacks on their menu, more than any other foodservice channel, according to Technomic. One reason for this is because consumers are increasingly eating smaller meals throughout the day, many of which include fresh fruit, granola bars, chips and crackers, trail mix, yogurt and more.
“Consumers are eating smaller meals more often and are fitting these meals in during nontraditional hours,” Technomic said. “The time niche between traditional breakfast and lunch hours is becoming the new sweet spot for c-store snack promotion.”
Investing in coffee
While coffee remains the most popular c-store beverage, retailers must focus on cleanliness, value and technology to continually engage the coffee consumer, Technomic said. Nine out of 10 weekly c-store coffee consumers said store cleanliness is important to their visits, according to the report. Furthermore, 88% said they need good value for their cup of joe and 21% said they prefer new digital machines for coffee customization.
The birth of CBD
Cannabidiol (CBD) became one of the most popular c-store products in recent memory in 2019 and is moving full speed ahead. More than half of consumers (54%)—and 70% of millennials—said they’re interested in purchasing CBD-infused prepared food or beverages from a c-store, according to Technomic. Most said they would be interested in purchasing cold beverages (67%), hot beverages (62%) and baked goods (59%). Consumers are also intrigued by CBD-infused snacks and candy: More than half (53%) said they’re interested in purchasing CBD chocolates in c-stores, which outpaced nonchocolate candy (49%), gum (48%) and more.