For Convenience Stores, Boosting Basket Sizes and Bulk Buys Can Keep Profits High

grocery cart
Photograph: Shutterstock

After an unprecedented plunge in both in-store and forecourt sales in the early spring, c-store activity has been picking up since the summer, according to Technomic’s Q3 2020 C-Store Consumer MarketBrief. With nearly 40% of consumers reporting they’re comfortable visiting c-stores and even more saying they expect to feel comfortable visiting within the next three months, overall sales are currently on the rise for much of the convenience channel after pandemic-delivered blows forced retailers to recalibrate their store sets and food offerings.

But what makes the current retail opportunity different from pre-COVID is the market basket. While tobacco and beverages continue to perform well, customers have shifted their spend toward family-size SKUs, such as gallons of milk, 2-liter soft drinks and larger bags of salty snacks—all at the expense of single-serve alternatives.

Pandemic spurs upsizing

Skupos, a leading business data platform, tracks 14,000 stores from single-unit mom-and-pops to small- and moderate-size chains, and has identified changes in consumer behavior. Mask-attired buyers are looking to squeeze much more into a single trip, eyeing take-home size snacks and goods over immediate-consumption portions and soothing their anxieties with increased purchases of tobacco and beer.

While c-store baskets averaged 2.62 items the week of March 15, 2020, baskets experienced 8% growth into mid-April as COVID-19-related changes took hold of the market, according to Skupos point-of-sale data. Current averages remain heightened at 2.74 items per basket—an 8.7% increase from the beginning of the year.

Beyond basket sizes increasing, family-size products have become a major selling point, with bulk pack purchases of packaged beverages, including 6+ packs and 2+ liter bottles, increasing 40% between January and August and with party-size chip sales seeing growth as well. Increases in future-consumption purchases have strengthened market basket sizes, potentially offsetting the double-digit declines some retailers are seeing in the forecourt.

The largest spike in future-consumption purchases occurred in the weeks following the U.S. national health emergency announcement, between March 22 and April 26, when weekly velocity per store went from 69 to 90.3. In recent weeks, future-consumption purchases remain popular among c-store shoppers with velocity having settled around 95 units per store per week.

It’s important to note, however, that the degree of growth in ticket size isn’t uniform across brands within each CPG category. Skupos data dives deeper to determine consumers’ go-to brands and products during the pandemic, insights that underscore preferences that differ by market and even by store chain.

Star-player products of the pandemic

Skupos data found two categories driving stronger basket size: tobacco and beverages—in particular, Marlboro Golds, Mountain Dew, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper. Even more, consumers frequently purchased these products together. Of the top 30 most common market basket combos, excluding twofers, 20-ounce Original Mountain Dew coupled with the Marlboro King Golds and 20-ounce Original Mountain Dew coupled with 20-ounce Original Pepsi were the two most frequently purchased market basket combos at 6% of transactions across Skupos’ customer base.

For future-consumption purchases of bulk packaged beverage products, Coca-Cola steals the show, garnering a 28% increase between January and August. Among party-size chip sales, classic nacho cheese Doritos sailed past rivals, experiencing 48% growth from January to August while Flamin’ Hot Cheetos grew 10% as runner-up.

Takeaways for 2021 success

Purchase behavior is experiencing a sea-change amid a pandemic that will likely disrupt pre-COVID trends for years to come. Insights from Skupos allow suppliers and retailers to tailor their inventory and promotions to align with the latest trends.

For example, retailers can increase the number of family-size items on shelves, promote take-home meal solutions, promote multi-pack beverages and create new endcaps to enhance destinations of the hottest-selling items and subcategories. In addition, sales data can inform suppliers’ decisions and enable them to offer the most profitable, competitive promotions and marketing plans for their retail clients.

Fortunately, Skupos eliminates the guesswork—and the hassle. Skupos Insights monitors, measures and interprets detailed scan data continuously drawn from 10 million transactions each day. Skupos Engage brings certainty and agility to the process of designing promotions by connecting retailers to a network of brand discounts on the items consumers purchase most.

To learn more about how these Skupos solutions and more can help c-store suppliers and retailers aim for success in 2021 and beyond, visit

This post is sponsored by Skupos

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