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    2017 Prediction: Foodservice Will Be Primary C-store Focus

    Innovation will drive sales, shift demographics.

    WESTPORT, Conn. — Foodservice will take center stage for convenience stores in 2017, predicts King-Casey, a retail consulting and design firm for the c-store industry.

    "Innovative c-stores — such as Sheetz and American Natural — have led the way in improving their food and foodservice offerings," said King-Casey principal Tom Cook. "Now the rest of the industry has noticed, with the result that foodservice will be the primary area of focus for c-stores looking to build their brands and bottom lines."

    According to Cook, c-stores will place a concentration on providing prepared foods, made-to-order sandwiches, fresh ingredients, healthy options, quality baked goods and barista-style coffee, espresso and tea beverages.

    "We believe foodservice sales growth will significantly outpace that of in-store merchandise," he added.

    Although foodservice offerings will play a significant role in 2017, c-stores will also have a competitive edge over quick-service restaurants (QSRs) and fast-casual restaurants as they continue to revamp their interior atmospheres to make them more inviting and improve the customer experience, the principal said.

    "This will change attitudes and behaviors over time, as customers spend more time in the stores talking, working and lingering over their food and beverages," Cooked noted. "The historical lines of distinction between c-stores and QSRs and fast-casual restaurants will continue to blur."

    Supermarkets will also feel the heat of competition from c-stores, as consumers begin to see more c-stores without gas pumps with non-fuel locations. This will be especially true of urban areas were millennials — the heaviest users of c-stores — are concentrated.

    Other King-Casey C-store predictions include:

    Demographic shifts: With significant improvements in foodservice offerings, store design and environments, customer demographics will change. More women, with and without children, will visit more often. Smart operators will differentiate their brands by adapting their offerings to the unique needs of this customer segment.

    Exterior appearance: Innovative c-store brands will increase drive-up and drive-by appeal with new, contemporary designs that incorporate large amounts of glass and windows that enable consumers to see the interior environment and store experience.

    Drive-thru growth: Currently, Sheetz, Wawa, Parker’s and a handful of other c-store brands offer drive-thru service. "We see dramatic growth in this area as savvy brands realize that drive-thrus offer the best way to meet the customer demand for convenience, as well as a way to differentiate themselves and generate incremental foodservice sales," Cook noted. 

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