More, Better Foodservice Boosting C-Store Trips, Acosta Group Study Reveals

Hot foods a significant draw for many consumers, who also desire gourmet foods such as cheeses, coffee, tea and craft beers
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Fifty-two percent of convenience-store shoppers shop once or more weekly and nearly 30% make more trips to c-stores than they did last year, a new study from Acosta Group reveals.

“For a vast majority of c-store shoppers, 92%, food and drink purchases are the primary purpose of the trip,” said Kathy Risch, senior vice president, thought leadership and shopper insights at Acosta Group, Jacksonville, Florida. 

For its 2023 Convenience Store Shopper Insights Study, Acosta Group focused on insights specific to consumer trip drivers, purchases and the evolving customer for the c-store channel.

The Acosta Group study reveals that 45% of c-store shoppers buy hot foods at least once weekly, with sandwiches, breakfast foods and pizza as the top choices, and 51% rate hot food items as good as fast-food or quick-serve restaurants—and often at a better price.

“There’s no doubt that high-quality foodservice is one of the key drivers behind increased trips this year,” Risch said.

Reaching C-Store Shoppers

The study examined the occupations and lifestyles driving shopper behaviors for two key c-store shopper segments: those in blue-collar jobs and millennials.

For blue-collar professions:

  • 23% of individuals in blue-color jobs shop c-stores daily versus the average 11% across all consumers
  • 70% grab a snack on the way to, during or from work
  • 58% buy lunch, 48% buy dinner
  • 42% eat in the store

For millennials:

  • They are more likely to shop weekly, if not daily
  • 53% shop in the evening
  • 44% stop for snacks to, during or from events
  • 36% stop for snacks to, during or from work
  • 32% stop for snacks to, during or from school

Snacks, candy, baked goods and refrigerated beverages are c-stores’ most frequently purchased items. These consumers also buy non-food items such as tobacco products, scratch-off lottery tickets and a variety of general merchandise items. Items bought more exclusively at c-stores include meat snacks and store-made hot foods.

The study noted that loyalty programs are especially popular for younger c-store shoppers, with 82% of millennials and 60% of Gen Z having memberships. Millennials use the program like the average c-store shopper but are less interested in specials and promotions. Gen Z members are interested in new item alerts and points for prizes with memberships. 

Digitally, 48% of c-store shoppers subscribe to retailers’ apps to earn rewards points and learn about specials and recommendations. For millennials, that percentage climbs to 85%.

In-Store Experience

“Shoppers choose c-stores primarily for convenience and the fast trip experience,” the Acosta Group study said. “The in-store experience is meeting most shoppers’ expectations from a product availability, shelf organization, customer service and cleanliness standpoint.”


  • Three in four shoppers say c-stores have good product availability, with opinions on pricing and value split; price causes channel leakage to grocery and mass retailers.
  • Consumers learn about promotions mainly via in-store signage and signage at the fueling/charging stations, as well as via retailer apps.
  • 58% of c-store shopping is in the afternoon daypart—with 78% buying snacks vs. full meals at this time and taking food to eat on the go.

“The c-store channel is absolutely on a growth path," said Hobie Walker, senior vice president of small format at Acosta, an Acosta Group agency. Today, 30% of these shoppers buy snacks, candy and beverages nearly exclusively in c-stores, reflecting the importance of having items in stock and at the right price, the study said.

In addition, hot foods are a significant draw for many consumers, the study said, and there’s an interest in gourmet foods like cheeses, coffee/tea and craft beers.

“We have the opportunity to explore expanding foodservice options within the convenience channel,” said D.J. White, senior vice president of corporate distribution at Core Foodservice, an Acosta Group Agency. “We see retailers moving to more sophisticated offerings, reflective of evolving consumer preferences.”


With promotions, retailers must effectively use signs inside and outside stores and recognize the importance of loyalty and app programs to engage with customers before they visit.

“Using both methods of customer interaction will help drive trips, especially during the key dayparts when shoppers are most apt to use this channel,” the study said.

The study was conducted in July 2023, with 1,299 U.S. shoppers who are members of the company’s shopper community who had shopped in c-stores during the previous six months. The Acosta Group Shopper Community is comprised of more than 40,000 demographically diverse shoppers across the United Staetes.

Acosta Group is a collective of retail, marketing and foodservice agencies empowering brands and retailers to win in the modern marketplace. It delivers commerce-focused solutions and connects its partners with people at every point in the consumer journey.

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