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Expanded and higher quality foodservice options driving trips to convenience stores

Acosta Group study finds more than half of U.S. c-store shoppers buying foods on a weekly basis.
convenience store interior

Acosta Group’s 2023 Convenience Store Shopper Insights Study, released in advance of the NACS Show 2023, took a close look at what is driving customers into c-stores in the United States and what their purchases reveal about the evolving customer base for the c-store channel.

While the study focuses on the U.S. c-store market, there are several takeaways that will be of interest to Canadian operators of c-stores.

According to the study’s findings, 52% of c-store shoppers are shopping once or more weekly and nearly 30% are making more trips to c-stores than they did last year. "For a vast majority of c-store shoppers—92%—food and drink purchases are the primary purpose of the trip," says Kathy Risch, SVP, thought leadership and shopper insights, Acosta Group. 

What should be of particular interest to Canadians is the growing desire of shoppers for hot foods and other higher-quality and healthy food items. The Acosta Group study shows that 45% of c-store shoppers purchase hot foods at least once weekly. Hot foods are a significant draw for many and there's an interest in gourmet foods to be had at c-stores, including cheeses, coffee/tea and even craft beers.

"We have the opportunity to explore expanding foodservice options within the convenience channel," says D.J. White, SVP, corporate distribution, CORE Foodservice, an Acosta Group Agency. "We see retailers moving to more sophisticated offerings, reflective of evolving consumer preferences."

"There's no doubt that high-quality foodservice is one of the key drivers behind increased trips this year," adds Risch.

These findings align with the 2023 Trends Survey that Convenience Store News Canada reported on from Innova Market Insights. In that study, Innova Market Insights finds that more c-store shoppers are looking for better-for-you meals, snacks and beverages. Its 2023 Trends Survey finds two out of three global consumers agree that they are “looking for simple and convenient ways to ensure my daily nutrients intake.”

“Culinary creativity blossomed during the pandemic and now needs to come with added convenience to meet busier routines,” says Innova, which has identified “Quick Quality” as one of its top 10 food trends for 2023.

Another interesting finding in the Acosta Group study is the growing popularity of loyalty programs. Some 82% of millennials and 60% of Gen Z having memberships in some form of loyalty programs, and 48% of c-store shoppers subscribe to retailers' apps to earn rewards points and learn about specials and recommendations. That number jumps to 85% for millennials.

As Michael McDowell, vice-president, loyalty and partnerships at Parkland points out, loyalty programs are a growing driver of c-store transactions. “About one in every five transactions is from a loyalty member. Although we have grown that rate very quickly, it shows the opportunity for accelerated member acquisition.”

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