Convenience stores are gaining ground in their race for the foodservice dollar as more consumers embrace the outlets as purveyors of quality prepared foods, industry observers said during an educational session at the NRA Show.
In the past 20 years, customer satisfaction with foods bought at convenience stores, or C-stores, has grown considerably, from about 20 percent expressing high satisfaction to more than 70 percent today, said Dean Dirks, founder and chief executive of Dirks & Associates, a convenience store and foodservice consulting firm.
Dirks spoke during an educational session titled “The State of C-store Foodservice” Saturday in Chicago. He was citing a recent survey from Convenience Store News.
That 70 percent satisfaction rate breaks down to 22.6 percent of patrons saying they were extremely satisfied with their c-store prepared foods and 48 percent saying they were very satisfied. Those findings indicate that today’s consumers think of c-stores as more than a stop for cigarettes and gas, said Dirks.
Further, the customer for c-store prepared foods is becoming more discerning, according to the survey. While price and value remain most important to c-store food purchasers, both food quality and taste have grown in importance in just the past year, with 64.5 percent of respondents deeming food quality important in 2012, compared to 58.6 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, 56.4 percent of respondents ranked taste as important in 2012, up from 55.6 percent a year earlier.
Dirks noted that the survey found customer service ranked third from the bottom in importance, suggesting not only that c-store food patrons had low service expectations, but that convenience store operators could make huge progress in foodservice sales by offering better service.
And don’t think c-store operators aren’t thinking that way, said Don Longo, editor of Convenience Store News. More are now testing drive-thrus and creating in-store dining areas. As an example, York, Pa.-based Rutter’s Farm Stores dedicated a quarter of its 5,800-square-foot space to foodservice in its newest prototype, according to a story in Convenience Store News. Rutter’s also unveiled several new menu items, including wraps and fresh-baked biscuits, prepared in front of the customer.
Going forward, Longo said he expects more c-store operators to make further sales-building refinements to their foodservice businesses, including:
• More value-oriented promotions
• More private-label food items
• More freshly prepared foods, including investments in warehouses and commissaries to keep inventory lower and foods fresher
• A broader array of food offerings
• And the use of more technology in marketing and supply chain management, including growth in c-store loyalty programs.