Now, more than ever, convenience shoppers are turning to c-stores to satisfy cravings at mealtimes and the great news is the overwhelming majority say they are satisfied with their most recent purchase of prepared food.
According to data from the 2023 C-store IQ National Shopper Study, more than half of shoppers (55%) say they purchased prepared food at a convenience store in the past month, an average of 2.77 times. Working with the research team at EnsembleIQ, Convenience Store News Canada surveyed more than 2,000 convenience shoppers across the country to examine their wants and needs at retail, specifically convenience and gas. Data shows that when it comes to prepared foods, c-stores are getting it right, but there's a lot of opportunity for growth.
That 55% of shoppers is a significant jump compared to the 2022 study, when 46% of shoppers purchased prepared food at a c-store, an average of 1.6 times. IN 2019, pre-pandemic, the number was also 46%.
Now, as people establish regular work and school routines, convenience stores are increasingly a destination for satiation on the go.
Research shows prepared foods purchases peak at lunch time and are relatively steady until after the dinner hour. Most purchases are combined with other items or gasoline, however 30% of shoppers say they visited a convenience store exclusively to purchase prepared foods.
As an added benefit, these food purchases fuel a bigger basket size: Among prepared foods purchasers, only 7% did not buy anything else, with most also adding lottery tickets, milk and bottled water to their purchase. Of note, spending on candy/gum, ice cream and frozen/cold dispensed drinks increased significantly compared to 2022.
What foods are people buying? Pizza leads the list of items purchased, followed by sandwiches and hot dogs. However, it’s worth noting shoppers indicated a significant and growing taste for international cuisines, including Mexican, Indian, Italian, Middle Eastern and Thai. In addition, hungry shoppers say they are looking for healthier options, as well as organic/all natural foods. Quality, freshness and taste are important to those dining at c-gas.
As c-gas operations increasingly rely on foodservice to drive foot traffic and revenues, the good news is 90% of c-store shoppers are satisfied with their most recent prepared food purchase.
In fact, those who turn up their noses at ‘gas station food’ and say they simply “prefer not to purchase at c-store” decreased significantly compared to 2022, which demonstrates that c-gas operations are making headway in establishing themselves as quality foodservice destinations.
Cost, not surprisingly, is the top inhibitor to purchasing prepared foods, as shoppers tighten their purse strings. Note, gen X and boomers are more likely than millennials to say c-store prepared foods are too expensive. In other words, younger shoppers are willing to pay a premium for convenient meal and snack options.
As people are increasingly on the move, with travel, kids’ sports etc., more than half (57%) of shoppers consumed their most recent prepared food purchase away from home (yes, they are eating in the car).
It’s no surprise then that nearly half (45%) of shoppers purchased grab-and-go items, which is the most common scenario at convenience. However, it’s worth noting that a growing number of shoppers say they prefer made-to-order options, revealing an opportunity for c-stores to diversify their prepared food offering.
While fast food restaurants continue to hold the top spot for the most likely destination to purchase prepared food, thanks to solutions such as home delivery, c-store are closing the gap and staking claim as solid and viable competitor for consumers’ share of stomach.