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There is a scene in the 1994 movie, "Reality Bites," in which the main characters use a gas credit card at a convenience store to stock up on packaged food items as a way to satisfy their late-night junk cravings. Those of us born before the year 2000 associated the c-stores we grew up with as the place to get fuel, frozen sugary drinks, lottery tickets, alcohol and smokes. As a result, you would never think to go there for a square meal.
Fast forward 20 years to 2014 and the "Reality Bites" scene seems quaintly nostalgic by today’s c-store retail standards. Many chains now aim to offer equal, if not superior, food experiences to traditional quick-service restaurants such as Subway, McDonald’s, Quiznos and others. Some have even employed the “store-within-a-store” concept by partnering with one of those known brands.
In the Pittsburgh area, where CivicScience is headquartered, we have both Sheetz and supermarket chain Giant Eagle’s GetGo convenience stores featuring fresh food prepared on-site (sandwiches, salads, etc.) that put the pre-wrapped items of days past to shame. Some stores even have touchscreen ordering kiosks, where you can punch in your customized food desires.
Even with all these advances in technology, menus, services, personnel training and store layouts, though, it all comes down to consumers. When it comes to convenience store freshly prepared food -- also called by some as made to order -- what do consumers think and how do they behave?
Using CivicScience’s consumer polling and insights platform, U.S. consumers were asked what they think about the quality of today’s freshly prepared food offerings from c-stores when compared to the quality of fast-food restaurants. More than 3,600 responses were collected Aug. 14-Aug. 27.
Here’s what we learned: Most consumers (53 percent) believe freshly prepared food offered by convenience stores is of equal or greater quality than the food of "traditional" fast-food restaurants. (This number jumps to 71 percent when eliminating those consumers who say they never eat at either type of business.)
Now, let’s look deeper into the demographics of the different respondent groups:
- Gender: Respondents who say c-store freshly prepared food is of higher quality are more likely to be men (56 percent male vs. 44 percent female). Women are more likely to say they never eat at either business (57 percent to 43 percent).
- Age: Younger respondents in general are more likely to say c-store freshly prepared food is of higher quality. (Remember, many of these are the post-"Reality Bites" generations.) As people get older, they are more likely to see c-store quality as equal to that of fast food. Those over the age of 65 are most likely to say they never eat at either.
- Income: When looking at income, there is little difference except that those who say c-store freshly prepared food is of higher quality are more likely to make less than $25,000 per year. This could reflect an age proxy, as younger respondents generally make less in annual income.
- Residential location: Those who believe c-store freshly prepared food is of higher quality than fast food are about twice as likely to live in an urban area vs. a rural one. Those who believe fast-food quality is higher are more likely to live in the suburbs.
- Occupation: Those who favor the quality of convenience store food over fast food are more likely to be skilled craft workers and laborers, while fast-food fans are more likely to work as managerial professionals, salespeople and homemakers.