For consumers who are buying fewer dispensed or foodservice beverages at c-stores, they just don't think of the channel as an option—and they also believe that they can get what they want elsewhere.

What do they want? Nearly three-quarters of c-store patrons said unique foodservice beverages are an important factor in where they buy. But different doesn’t have to be dramatic. “Beverage innovation is not groundbreaking,” says Erin Moore Ruddy, senior manager of consumer insights for Technomic. “It’s not about robots making their drinks or serving them; it’s about having better flavors and formats.”

One factor that can’t be sacrificed in the pursuit of innovation is speed. About one-third of c-store consumers say fast service influenced them to increase their foodservice beverage purchases, making it a competitive strength of the channel.

While carbonated soft drinks (CSDs) and hot coffee are the top two beverage purchases in c-stores regardless of age, gender or market, 72% of c-store consumers say unique beverage options are somewhat or extremely important in their purchasing decision. According to Technomic research, these products have especially high appeal:

  • Noncola carbonated fountain beverages, such as iced tea or water.
  • Healthier beverage options that offer lower sugar content.
  • Local and craft beverages.
  • Freshly squeezed juices.
  • Cold-brew coffee.

“Noncola-based beverages are being driven by consumers’ desires for healthier options,” says Sophie Son, analyst of research and insights for Technomic, pointing out that this is primarily driven by younger consumers. Sixty-eight percent of Gen Z consumers and 75% of millennials consider healthy beverage options important.

“Making a small change to something that has a low sugar count makes a big difference, and younger consumers are more likely to do this because this message is constantly in their face,” Son says.

Craft and local beverage options are appealing to younger consumers: 86% of millennials say they would like to see more such beverage items at c-stores, vs. 71% overall.