It’s no secret that consumers have developed a taste for living and eating healthier, as more and more foodservice offerings appear in the categories of natural, fresh, vegetarian or even vegan (no meat or animal products whatsoever). And while the trend has been most evident in restaurants and grocery stores, a generational shift is about to make this new wave of consumer preference hit convenience stores in a big way.
Over three-quarters of 18-34 year olds say they would purchase more prepared foods from c-stores if the foods were designated as local and/or natural and presented in environmentally friendly packaging. This same cohort, millennials and the “Gen Z” group behind them, already shop at c-stores 11% of the time for food and beverages – a share of visits, and wallet, that’s sure to increase significantly, given the younger generations’ penchant for ease and convenience. It’s a trend that takes on added significance for stores co-located with gas stations, as a growing number of consumers report that the quality of food available impacts their decision on where to buy fuel.
While convenience stores may not have led the charge to healthier eating, the smart c-store money is investing in fresh new thinking, in a variety of ways.
Meat has always been a mainstay of convenience store meals – but meat has met its match in this new trend. In just four years, daily meat consumption has dropped 16%. The challenge, however, is not to go meatless. It’s about serving customer demands for more options in health, fitness and even food sources.
For RaceTrac stores, that’s meant taking small steps in this new direction, such as offering non-dairy frozen desserts and coffee-creamers. At QuikTrip, it’s resulted in updating roller grill offerings to include vegan bean and corn poblano burritos – while still offering traditional hot dogs. And in c-store beverage sections across the country you’ll find an ever-expanding selection of soda-alternatives, free of sugar and artificial additives.
“Locavores,” consumers obsessed with fresh, locally produced foods, were once found only in trendy farm-to-table restaurants. Now they’re everywhere, including convenience store aisles, and major players are making big moves to get their business.
In keeping with the surge in meal kits and restaurant carry-out, 7-Eleven recently introduced 15 globally-inspired, but locally-made, takeout meals. These are prepared in local kitchens and delivered to stores daily to satisfy the growing urge for “goodness on the go,” whether it’s for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
And stores that can’t manage a nationwide network of local meal vendors can at least provide the same ease and quality customers demand, by turning to new product offerings. For example, Nestle, via its Sweet Earth Foods division, is providing “clean-label, meat-free” frozen meals, from breakfast sandwiches to plant-based burgers.
Feeding a new consumer mindset
Finally, it’s important to realize that taking advantage of this trend doesn’t require you to completely change your stripes – you simply need to add a healthy green one to the mix. So, yes, today’s consumers want good-for-you options to eat. But they also want them presented in good-for-the-earth packaging. And they take note when “small” details like recycled napkins are offered. It’s all part of letting your customers know that you not only provide good value, but also share their values about healthiness and the environment.
In short, it’s not just about meals, it’s about a whole consumer mindset – and a whole new world of opportunity for convenience stores.
IAB: C-Store Foot Traffic Report
Compliantia: Convenience Store Industry Trends
Food Business News: Foodservice Trends at Convenience Stores
CSP Daily News: The State of Healthy Eating
CSP Daily News: Convenience Retailing Trends
Medium: Why Nestle is going big on meatless meals