C-Stores Make Some Fresh Noise

The Hartman Group delves into convenience channel's "not-so-quiet" move toward healthy

BELLEVUE, Wash. -- Food culture in America is constantly changing. That the convenience store landscape has been changing for a number of years and now appeals to a wider range of consumers should not be all that surprising, said The Hartman Group.

Gas station convenience store c-store

More than half (53%) of all eating occasions are snacking occasions. "Health" is an important consideration on 56% of snacking occasions. On any given day, one in 10 (10%) of nonrestaurant eating occasions takes place within an hour of purchasing the food or beverage consumed (an "immediate consumption" occasion). And, according to the Hartman Eating Occasion Compass data that consists of more than 41,000 total eatings, consumers are four times more likely to go to a c-store for an immediate consumption occasion than for a non-immediate consumption occasion (14% vs. 3%, respectively).

Despite media skepticism, c-store chains such as 7-Eleven, Wawa and Sheetz have been "wellness-izing" their stores to offer healthier alternatives to the standard fare one typically associates with the convenience channel. And urban drugstores, which effectively function as c-stores, are also seeing interest and growth in their fresh departments.

"We should interpret the positive consumer reaction to these changes in the drugstore channel as evidence for consumer acceptance of convenience stores moving in the same direction (i.e., toward 'better-for-you' and higher-quality products)," the report said.

C-stores appeal to a broad cross section of the population looking for everything from a simple beverage to a meal. And because people of all socioeconomic statuses are busy and on-the-go, c-stores appeal to a variety of consumers.

Historically, core c-store shoppers have been 18-24 year old males; however, the c-store demographic is shifting. Women's on-the-go lifestyles and efforts to balance work and family make c-stores an increasingly appealing option, and as "purchasing agents" in charge of their household's day-to-day spending, will find c-stores that serve their routine shopping needs more relevant.

Millennials represent the largest population segment in the United States. One in every five household dollars are spent by or on a Millennial. The c-store channel captures a significant share of their wallets. Millennials' more impulsive, unplanned shopping behaviors also make them an ideal target audience for c-stores, since they seek immediate gratification and "in-and-out" shopping. They also desire higher-quality food experiences and authentic global/ethnic flavors.

Tailoring C-store offerings to the preferences of women and Millennials allows the channel to evolve with these growing market segments.

The c-store is increasingly relevant given the demands of modern-day living. They offer improved and expanded selection of foods, fresh items and household goods allow shoppers to pick up pantry staples or even dinner while filling their tanks. They are an oasis for last-minute shoppers who needs a few things, but can't be bothered navigating grocery store crowds and parking lots.

C-stores provide instant gratification and are great channels for impulse buys. Appealing displays and ready to grab items can easily entice the shopper who may have intended only to buy a drink or pay for fuel. And stocking interesting and unique merchandise can attract consumers looking for a little entertainment or a mid-drive pick me up.

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