General Merchandise/HBC

Grocery Sales Rise in C-Stores, NACS Survey Shows

Retailers are adding more cleaning products, ready-to-heat meals, bulk items amid COVID-19 crisis
store isle
Photograph: Shutterstock

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Grocery sales are up in convenience stores as consumers stock their pantries and stay indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than half of retailers surveyed by NACS, the Alexandria, Va.-based trade association that represents the c-store and fuel retailing industry, said their grocery sales have increased since the coronavirus has spread. The NACS Retailer Member survey was conducted from late March to April 1. A total of 105 companies responded, representing 1,828 stores, according to NACS.

While c-stores traditionally sell immediate-consumption items, 52% of respondents said they are adding more cleaning and toiletry items, 31% said they are emphasizing ready-to-heat meals and 28% are showcasing multipack and bulk items, said NACS.

While some of these categories are up in sales, foodservice has taken a hit amid the COVID-19 crisis. As of March 23, the expected year-over-year decline for U.S. foodservice in 2020 is 11% to 27%, according to a new white paper by CSP’s sister research firm, Technomic.

About 66% of retailers said they have closed public seating and dining areas, the NACS survey said, and 45% have removed customer access to self-serve foodservice, including coffee, fountain drinks, bakery items and roller grill items.

Despite the increased demand for food, 46% of c-store retailers said their distribution system is working. Eighteen percent said their distribution system is sufficient, but they are supplementing it with other deliveries, according to NACS.

Drive-thru and delivery options at c-stores are also increasing as retailers are looking to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Fourteen percent of retailers said they’re offering a curbside pickup program, 13% increased their focus on drive-thru and 11% added increase delivery options,  the survey said.

When it comes to staying healthy at the pump, about one in three retailers provide hand sanitizer at the pump and 20% provide gloves at the pump. Nearly all retailers said they have enhanced their cleaning protocols for high-touch surfaces. About 60% of retailers have reduced store operating hours due to less customer traffic or to deep clean and restock during overnight hours.

Retailers are stepping up to help their neighbors, too, said the survey. About half of retailers are helping their community by donating supplies to first responders or hospitals or providing free fuel for critical community groups.

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