CHICAGO — The breakfast business was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. With customers working from home, or not working at all, gone is the routine stop at a convenience store for breakfast on the way to work or school. And recovery has been variable.
For Landhope Farms, a three-unit c-store retailer based in Kennett Square, Pa., it depended on the store. Stores near schools and in quieter areas came to a virtual stop in the morning, but a location close to a highway “never skipped a beat, and morning business actually grew and hasn’t stopped,” Director of Operations Dennis McCartney said. Most business at all three stores came back during the summer, however.
At Rutter’s stores, breakfast “has taken the biggest hit during COVID,” said Chad White, foodservice category manager; however, he added, “we still have a large part of our breakfast category coming from our hot-hold grab-and-go area.”
On the supplier side, Ruiz Foods, maker of Tornados, burritos and empanadas, saw a big change in the way its products are sold, now mostly served out of a hot case instead of from the roller grill. “Convenience-store retailers are resilient and are still finding ways to meet consumer needs,” said Kimberli Carroll, senior vice president, c-store and foodservice sales, for the Dinuba, Calif.-based company.
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Promotions and marketing are proven methods to boosts sales of breakfast foods and limited-time offers (LTOs), even through the pandemic.
One of the most popular campaigns at Rutter’s is its two-for deal on breakfast sandwiches. “This drives breakfast sales not just during the breakfast dayparts but in all dayparts,” White said. “Along with this promo, we push social media and in-store signage to help notify customers.”
Similarly, Pilot Co. promotes its breakfast offer on social media and its loyalty app. These offers can include two-for deals and, on special days, a free bundle for Veterans Day. “By providing guests with great deals in the app to save on popular items in-store and offering bundle deals like breakfast and coffee, we help drive trial while saving our guests money,” said Jamie King, senior director of food and beverage at the Knoxville, Tenn.-based chain.
And breakfast foods aren’t just for the morning meal anymore. Most convenience stores see the bulk of their breakfast sales before 10 a.m., but more and more offer these food items throughout the day.
“We see customers that just enjoy that one item that they want to get regardless of the time,” said White of Rutters.
Likewise, two years ago, Landhope Farms hesitantly extended breakfast to all-day, fearing the move would cannibalize higher priced items available during later dayparts. “Would our customers trade their hoagie or burger for a Giddy-Up breakfast sandwich (starting price $2.89)? We quickly found out they didn’t,” McCartney said. “It seemed that offering our breakfast all day gave our customers another choice for a snack. We didn’t see it replacing lunches or dinners but saw an uptick in those purchases during the afternoon and late evening timeframes.”
All-day breakfast can take different forms, according to Aimee Harvey, senior managing editor with CSP sister market-research company Technomic. She said many quick-service restaurant chains have eliminated all-day full breakfast in favor of other items, especially snacks, pointing to the examples of Dunkin’s all-day Snackin’ Bacon and McDonald’s new all-day breakfast baked goods. “Expect c-stores to follow suit, with sweet and savory breakfast snacks throughout the day,” she said.