Bright Future for C-Store Foodservice

Bonnie Riggs, Restaurant industry analyst

C-stores and other retailers that sell prepared foods or home meal replacements have been successfully competing for foodservice occasions for some time. This success is expected to continue over the next decade. NPD’s recent foodservice forecast through 2022 indicates that instances of prepared food purchased at c-stores and other retailers for at-home consumption will increase by 10% over the next decade compared to a 4% increase forecast for commercial foodservice traffic. 

The fact that prepared foods from retail appeal to all age groups is certainly a contributor to its growth. Prepared foods are used by all adults with about the same frequency. While there appears little distinction among the consumers reached by prepared-food retailers, the needs being met do differ by age group. For example, adults 35 years and older are more likely than 18- to 34-year olds to use this source to meet their in-home supper needs. Lunch-at-home interests are also met by these retailers, especially for seniors (65 and older). Consumers ages 18 to 24 are more inclined to purchase from these retail outlets that satisfy their interest in afternoon or evening snacks. 

The forecast methodology used by NPD to project the growth of retail prepared foods and home meal replacements incorporates the past demand trend, buying behaviors and preferences of consumers by individual age, combined with census projections for each age. Acknowledging the growth in the number of baby boomers moving into their senior years, it is of little surprise that a larger share of the home meal replacement purchases from retailers will source to those 65 and older over the next 10 years. These retailers are also expected to benefit from increased visits from those in their 30s.

The entrees purchased most frequently at retail outlets include chicken, pizza, mac & cheese, and sandwiches. Sandwiches are also popular take-home items. 

There is also a difference in the food choices being made by various age groups. Younger adults are more likely than those older to purchase pizza, hot dogs, and burgers to eat at home. Consumers older than 50 are interested in purchasing both fried and non-fried chicken. Younger adults are more inclined to order non-fried chicken than fried chicken. See the chart below for the most frequently purchased foods from retail outlets that are taken home to eat.

Foodservice is a growth path for the retail channels and indications are that the future looks bright for prepared food and home meal replacement offerings from c-stores. Consumers are eating at home more but are still looking for convenience, taste, and value just as they always have, and there is a huge opportunity for retailers who can meet this growing demand.