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Why C-Stores Are the New Frontier of Foodservice

Why C-Stores Are the New Frontier of Foodservice

Growth in this segment knows no bounds. Expand your foodservice brand sales by getting in.

If you’re craving an authentic crab cake in Maryland, head to … the pump! Convenience stores today offer something fast, something filling, and – increasingly – something unexpected as the new face of foodservice.

What is happening, exactly?

In-store convenience store sales have been steadily climbing over twenty years. Sales reached over $256 billion in 2020. You could say c-stores are immune to a major slump by design:

  • Convenience is the business model.
  • They fulfill immediate needs: 83% of purchases are consumed within an hour.
  • With the addition of a warm meal, it’s a one-stop-shop for busy consumers.
  • The customer base consists of essential workers like professional drivers and first responders, as well as a growing number of Millennials.

As the lines between restaurant, supermarket, and convenience store continue to blur, c-stores are adding the service mechanisms that are becoming essential to foodservice today: Drive-thrus and delivery. Curbside pickup. Mobile ordering. Smart Kitchens with machine learning that can predict how much of a menu item will be consumed at any given time. Anything a quick-serve can do, a c-store can do … better?

C Stands for Catch-up

In fact, C-stores are catching up to casual dining as a preferred foodservice destination:

Consumers’ restaurant preference to order from at least once a week:

Quick service: 62.6%
Fast casual: 52%
Grocery store: 48.7%
Casual dining: 40.5%
Convenience store: 28.2%
Fine-dining restaurant: 12.5%
Food truck: 11.5%

Source: Deloitte “Restaurant of the Future Report,” December 2021

Foodservice is a Top Consideration for C-Stores

Foodservice accounts for 22.6 percent of sales and 36.4 percent of profits at US c-stores. Foodservice programs are increasingly essential to c-store profitability. That’s where your brand comes in.

Leverage Your Brand as a Turnkey Foodservice Program for C-Store Franchisees

As you look to craft foodservice solutions tailored to c-store customers, help them overcome specific constraints.

Low-labor. Offer meals with simple prep that doesn’t require culinary training.
Travel-ready. Build handheld, mess-free formats. The easier to eat on the go, the better.
Extended shelf life. C-stores typically get deliveries only 1-2 times a week, so consider single-serve packaging and other technology that maximizes freshness.

Know Your Customer

c store sandwiches

The Foodie Stop

At the extreme end of the spectrum are foodservice destinations that also sell fuel. Such operations likely have the staff and equipment in place to offer more complex foodservice offerings. For these customers, focus on:

  • Unique culinary-forward items
  • Plant-based alternatives
  • Cleaner-label formulations
  • Opportunity for compelling customization, such as burgers that can swap out proteins, buns, and toppings.

The Quick Fix

On the other end of the spectrum, c-store operators may simply be looking to supplement their hot-dog rollers to build incremental sales. In this case, consider:

  • Simple products that utilize existing setups.
  • Familiar comfort-food mashups like chicken-and-waffle sandwiches or breakfast pizzas. Anything “stuffed” is also trending, like hash browns cooked in a muffin tin with a variety of meats and veggies at the center.
  • A product that opens up a new daypart, e.g. a microwavable breakfast sandwich (with clear heating instructions).
  • Formats suited to made-to-order kiosks serving items such as bowls, burritos, salad, or wraps.

Feed the Impulse

C-stores practically invented the impulse purchase. And fresh food is inherently alluring. Play up this appeal by offering foodservice solutions with:

  • Compelling, ownable brands and supporting signage for destination-stations: coffee, grab-and-go, fresh-baked breads, etc.
  • Heated display cases with high visibility
  • Aromatic elements of fresh-baking cookies, pizza, rolls, etc.

Innovate With Flexibility

61% of operators are willing to try totally new offerings as long as availability and good pricing is assured. Given supply chain uncertainties, approach your customer with creativity about what you can guarantee based on mutual goals. Maybe it’s a breakfast sandwich with supply and price locked in, provided the bread may vary from English muffin or biscuit to something more specialty like a waffle carrier or brioche bun. Spin the unknown into something that fares well with consumers – the LTO.

Tap Into Mobile

Most Millennials (84%) use their phones to help them shop in-store. As always, a dish that prompts social shares is a meal that advertises itself. Consider vibrant grab-and-go dishes like Mediterranean salads with pops of color, or charcuterie-style selections. How can the packaging be compelling as well as practical? If customers have fun opening or unwrapping a meal, they’ll have more fun eating it too.

Help operators leverage in-store digital promotions that boost trial and cement their c-stores as consumers’ preferred place for a food fix any time of day.

There’s no single right way to enter the c-store market, but you won’t go wrong if you consider how c-stores are a rising player in today’s foodservice arena.

Posted in: Thoughts
Tags: marketing
January 24, 2022

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