Hungry for opportunity
While the pandemic continues to disrupt and redefine the foodservice space, it continues to be an important focus area for convenience operators across the country. Of the 46% of c-store shoppers who purchased grab and go or menu items, 50% were extremely or very satisfied with their purchase, according to proprietary data from Convenience Store News Canada’s C-store IQ: A National Shopper Study.
C-store IQ is the first convenience and gas specific study that delves into the wants, needs, perspectives and habits of Canadian convenience consumers.
More than 1,000 Canadians 18+ participated in the study, which shows that 43% of shoppers visit chain convenience stores and 38% visit independently owned convenience stores at least once a week. In turn, 70% of convenience store shoppers typically shop the same store each time and, when considering the convenience store they shop most often, quality of food is among the top three reasons it’s their store of choice.
The average number of times that shoppers purchase prepared food at a convenience store is 1.48 in a month (some shoppers say they purchase prepared food as many as 45 times in a month!). Millennials (1.78) and Gen X (1.82) average more purchases of prepared food compared to boomers (1.02).
Half the shoppers were extremely or very satisfied with their purchase, while only 5% were not very or not at all satisfied.
Of the 54% who did not purchase prepared food, the majority say they simply didn’t plan to buy food or they weren’t hungry, however 38% say they prefer to not purchase prepared food at a convenience store, while 29% say it’s too expensive. Millennials (23%) are more likely than Baby Boomers (14%) to say the food did not look appetizing.
When are shoppers eating?
More than 60% of purchases are occurring between 11 a.m. till 7 p.m., but seem to slow down during the day between 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Of note, males (11%) are more likely than females (6%) to purchase food items in the morning hours between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m.
What are shoppers craving?
Traditional convenience store items remain the most popular prepared foods purchased:
19% hot dog
18% fresh baked goods
Research shows grab-and-go/refrigerated items are the most popular for 49% of shoppers, followed by made-to-order (31%). Millennials (59%) are more likely than Gen X (39%) to have purchased grab-and-go foods.
Prepared foods are generally purchased with one at least one additional item, with only 13% of shoppers saying that they only purchased prepared food. Apart from purchasing consumables, such as hot beverages (23%) and bottled water (19%) with prepared food, more than one in three shoppers purchase lottery tickets (34%).
- Females are more likely than males to purchase a hot beverage (27% vs. 18%), candy/gum (19% vs. 16%), milk (18% vs. 14%) and packaged salty snack (17% vs. 13%).
- Millennials are more likely than boomers to purchase candy/gum (24% vs. 10%), bottled/canned soda (19% vs. 12%), and cold fountain/dispensed pop/drink (17% vs. 11%).
- Boomers are more likely than millennials to purchase lottery tickets (42% vs. 23%) and hot beverages (28% vs. 19%).
- Self-defined health-conscious shoppers are more likely than non-health-conscious shoppers to purchase bottled water (23% vs. 13%), milk (22% vs. 9%) and coffee/tea/hot beverages (26% vs. 17%).
What’s important to foodservice customers?
While hygiene and sanitization practices are a priority, price (47%), freshness (42%), food quality (42%) and taste (41%) also lead the way in importance for prepared food purchases at a convenience store.
- Females (46%) are more likely to rate taste as being highly important compared to males (35%).
- Boomers (54%) are more likely than millennials (37%) and Gen X (38%) to rate freshness as highly important.
- Boomers (50%) and Gen X (45%) are more likely to rate food quality as being highly important, compared to millennials (31%).
- Gen X (46%) is more likely to rate taste as being highly important compared to millennials (34%).
- Health-conscious shoppers (46%) are more likely to rate freshness as highly important compared to non-health-conscious shoppers (36%).
- Health-conscious shoppers (14%) are more likely to rate customer service as highly important compared to non-health-conscious shoppers (9%).
Assessing the competition
Nearly 60% of hungry shoppers say they are most likely to purchase from a fast food restaurant if they do not purchase from a convenience store, while 17% would prepare and eat food at home and 9% would purchase prepared food/takeout from a grocery/supermarket.
Of note, prepared foods at fast food (42%) and casual dining (41%) outlets are perceived by close to half of shoppers as being ‘better’ than those at convenience stores. There’s definitely an opportunity to change that! However, almost half the shoppers feel that prepared food items at fast food (46%) are similar to convenience store.
A sizable proportion of shoppers are highly satisfied with their prepared food purchase from a c-store, but there remains plenty of room for improvement. Given that price, freshness and food quality are top factors while purchasing prepared foods from a c-store, meeting and exceeding expectations in these areas are likely to give convenience operators the edge over fast food, fast casual and casual dining outlets.
The pandemic continues to wreck havoc on traditional foodservice, however, as c-store foodservice is eaten almost exclusively offsite and purchased in conjunction with other products, the convenience industry is well-positioned to steal market share and meet the needs of hungry shoppers seeking quick and flavourful takeout options.