Convenience Stores Foodservice Trend 2014: Slow and Steady

C-stores continue to gain ground, albeit gradually

By
Robert Lillegard, Freelance writer

Abbie Westra, Editor-in-Chief, Convenience Store Products

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Foodservice is not for the impatient, especially if you’re running a convenience store. While c-store foodservice traffic grew 1% last year compared to flat growth for both quick-service restaurants (QSR) and food/drug channels, that’s down from 2% growth in 2012 and 3% in 2011.

“There were roughly 65 million more visits to c-stores in 2013 than in 2012,” says Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst for The NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y. “I would say they’re doing well in light of [their] competition.”

So who’s winning in c-store foodservice? Donna Hood Crecca, senior director for Technomic, Chicago, peeked at the latest numbers from the research firm’s C-Store Consumer Brand Metrics study and found Wawa, Susser Holdings Corp.’s Stripes and Kwik Trip in the top three.

“Wawa scored particularly well for taste and flavor,” she says, “though all three scored well for unique and craveable items—which is important for driving repeat business and loyalty.”

Unique and craveable means different things to different audiences. According to Justin Massa, founder and CEO of Food Genius, Chicago, strong ethnic flavors—particularly anything with a heavy dose of heat—dominate c-store offerings.

“I am blown away by the sheer number of products whose sheer marketing claim is that they’re spicy,” Massa says. “I feel like beverages is the only place spicy has left to go.”

Most of the leaders follow a parallel focus on more made-to-order offerings along with high-quality grab and go. Wawa, Pa.-based Wawa’s hoagies are the foundation of the brand’s success, while LaCrosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip has augmented its robust grab-and-go menu with produce, meats and dairy for fill-in shopping occasions.

“Even if it’s grab and go, preparation methods that speak to freshness are important,” Crecca says. “Operationally, that can be kind of challenging.”

She points to the house-made tortillas at Corpus Christi, Texas-based Stripes’ Laredo Taco Co., an operationally difficult yet portable and convenient offering that ties into the ethnic-flavor trends of the region.

C-store behemoth 7-Eleven ranked No. 1 in terms of foodservice patronage in Technomic’s study. (See p. 16 for more results.) Yet while the Dallas-based chain has a steady pipeline of innovative foodservice rollouts, Crecca says it is scoring near the bottom as far as customer impressions of its foodservice.

“It’s the big dog, [with] a lot of different types of location,” Crecca says. “They might be most prone to some of the negative perceptions, [or lack] the ability to execute across such a large system.”

NEXT: 2013 C-Store Foodservice Sales Data

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