The market has drastically evolved. Think of yesterday’s convenience stores as the hot, dense ball of matter and energy that existed before the big bang occurred. Since the figurative “big bang” the convenience store industry and its customer base has expanded in all directions and has become more comprehensive than it has ever been.
In order to understand where the industry is headed with the evolving demand facing convenience stores, it is essential to understand the consumers driving our business. Perhaps no company has identified today’s c-store customers better than General Mills. According to General Mills C-Store Consumer segments can be broken down into four categories:
- Breakfast Barons (22%) - Those who seek out C-stores to quickly feed their hunger on the morning commute.
- How to appeal: Focus on a variety of quality breakfast options on weekday mornings. To increase sales, consider adding deals on items that go well with breakfast like coffee, energy drinks and fresh fruit. Also, bring them back in for lunch with an added lunch coupon at checkout.
- Vice squatters (18%) - Those who seek to get their fix for liquor, cigarettes, and lottery tickets.
- How to appeal: Provide an extensive selection of liquor (if applicable – sorry, PA), cigarettes and lottery tickets at the checkout counter. Try offering grab and go items at the register for increased likeliness of an impulse buy.
- Pit Stoppers (38%) – Consumers who visit the store for a short amount of time to use the restroom, ATM, get gas, or buy a quick beverage.
- How to appeal: Capture pit stopper’s interest at the pump with a creative marketing tactic. Get them thinking about their food and beverage options while they wait at the pump. Offer quick grab and go items to increase likelihood of purchase for these in-and-out customers. In addition, store layouts with the bathrooms in the back of the store will increase likeliness of impulse buys.
- Meals and More (22%) – Young shoppers looking to take advantage of the industry’s most profitable category – foodservice – at lunch, dinner and snack time.
- How to appeal: Offer fresh, made to order (MTO) food options with a quick turn-around time. Consider offering organic, gluten free, non-GMO, and locally sourced ingredients to appeal to the growing segment of customers demanding these options. Last but not least, don’t forget the snacks! Millennials have been called the snack food generation, and will snack multiple times per day, make sure you can fill their hunger.
Foodservice – QSR meets Convenience
A foodservice program is no longer an optional offering for c-stores, it is a necessity. It has fueled the rise to power for industry giants like Rutters, Wawa, and Sheetz, and has become a staple in the c-stores of the 21st century. Foodservice was our industry’s most profitable category in 2014 increasing over 10% from 2013 according to NACS’ State of the Industry Report.
A problem operators are frequently running into is the lack of space to create or expand a foodservice program in the often tight space of a convenience store. However, as the convenience foodservice world has expanded, foodservice equipment companies have met the demand for compact, efficient means to cook products in 5 minutes or less. Companies like Turbochef and PerfectFry have revolutionized the industry by allowing companies to produce a wide range of food offerings quickly, while still maintaining the quality of slower cooking methods. In addition, these advanced cooking methods allow large chains to produce consistent products from one store to the next through the use of customizable programming.
As the capabilities of c-store foodservice programs have evolved, so has the demand of the consumer. A store can no longer compete based on the existence of a foodservice program alone. Convenience stores are being held up to the same standards as the nation’s fastest growing QSR’s like Chipotle, Shake Shack, and Qdoba. Consumers are demanding quickness with a focus on quality.
The days of self-serve processed foods are not completely lost, but they are fading fast. The growing segment of health-conscious consumers is leading the charge for fresh, non-processed food offerings in both made to order and grab and go options. For added appeal with this segment, take note of the following trends emerging on the c-store world:
- Increase in the demand for healthy food options
- Increase in sales of organic fruit and vegetables in c-stores
- The decline in soda sales and increase in healthier beverages
- Locally sourced produce
Modern Store Layout and Design
To win the hearts of new-age consumers, it is extremely important to give them an experience that keeps them coming back for more. According to Joseph Bona, President of the Retail Division at CBX, LLC, consumers are looking for convenience stores to not only fulfill their needs and desires, but do so in a unique and engaging environment.
When Clark Convenience Store Products designed c-stores in the past, we focused primarily on functionality, store flow, and convenience. Now, we focus on incorporating all those elements into a store that is aesthetically pleasing, technology focused, and inviting. In recent store designs the following design elements have become standard:
- Seating and dining areas
- Cell phone docking stations
- Large LED displays for foodservice and promotions
- LED-lighted walk in and reach in coolers
- Touch screen displays on soda machines, f’Real machines, and ordering kiosks
- Specialty coffee programs
For more information on convenience store trends, design, and equipment contact Clark Convenience Store Products at 1-800-678-5517 or by visiting www.ClarkCStore.com
Written by Tilghman Grandstaff
Edited by Marcie Byrd