SPRINGDALE, Ark. -- Why consumers choose one channel over another when purchasing prepared food was the overriding theme of yesterday's Convenience Store News 2014 Foodservice Summit, sponsored by Tyson Foods Inc. at the company's Tyson Discovery Center in Springdale.
A dozen retailers representing some of the most innovative and well-established foodservice players in the convenience channel -- Wawa Inc., 7-Eleven Inc., Rutter's Farm Stores and Kwik Trip Inc., to name a few -- participated in group discussions, consumer focus groups and an exclusive research presentation all centered around the consideration process consumers go through when choosing where to buy prepared food.
Among convenience store shoppers, only 10 percent of their prepared food purchases from on-the-go establishments are made at c-stores, according to a proprietary Channel Choices study conducted by Tyson Foods and presented during the event by Eric Le Blanc, vice president of marketing for its Convenience Foodservice & Deli division.
"That's not your fair share," Le Blanc said, receiving nods of agreement from all of the retailers in the room. C-stores trail quick-service restaurants (QSRs), which own 41 percent of those purchases, grocery store delis at 24 percent and fast-casual restaurants at 21 percent, the research showed.
As for why c-stores are lagging, the Tyson study found that consumers consider six attributes most important in their prepared-food purchase decisions and c-stores rank lowest across all six attributes among those on-the-go locations.
The attributes of most importance are:
- Quality of food
- Food freshness
- Menu choices/options
- Previous experience
Fast-casual scores high across all the attributes, while QSRs do best in price/value.
PLAYING OFF STRENGTHS
The good news for c-stores is that they are resonating with consumers on other attributes such as speed of service (No. 7 in importance), ease of parking (No. 8), location on direct travel route (No. 9), location on the way to/from work (No. 13), and food portability/ease of eating (No. 10).
Although these attributes are not in the top six, they are still important to consumers, Le Blanc said, and as such, convenience retailers should play up these strengths when communicating with consumers. At the same time, he said c-stores should also focus on improving in the top six critical attributes.
"The shopper we want is the shopper all the other channels are going after, too," he added. "You need to get high in the consideration set and then win while they're in the store."
Two specific consumer groups that the retailers in attendance believe the convenience channel can capitalize on are snackers and Millennial moms. Many of the retailers noted they are seeking out and testing items directly aimed at these consumers.
The online and live focus groups conducted during the Foodservice Summit by David Mills of the Mills Consulting Group provided many of the same takeaways for what c-stores are doing well and what they need to be doing better to steal share from grocery stores, QSRs and fast-casual restaurants.
It was clear from the focus groups that while some c-store retailers have earned the trust of consumers, the industry as a whole still suffers from the perception of serving low-quality food. The consumers said they would frequent c-stores more if the offering was consistent from store to store, the food was prepared in front of them, and there were more fruits and vegetables available.
Full coverage of the Foodservice Summit will appear in the May issue of Convenience Store News.