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Q1 Consulting recently completed a thorough study of the convenience store prepared foods/grab-and-go channel. While there were a number of significant findings from this research, there is one in particular that we believe is resonating throughout the segment and broader industry. It is the concept of "dayparts" and determining if this actually exists in a retail environment.
Take, for example, two shoppers: Mike drives a big rig and stops at a convenience store outside of Atlanta at 2:30 a.m. He orders two hot dogs, chips and a fountain beverage. A little farther north, in Chicago, at the same time, Larry is leaving work as a bartender and orders two breakfast sandwiches. Two meals, same time, but is it a meal, dinner, breakfast or snack?
It's No Longer a Question of When, But What We Eat
The idea of "grazing," or eating multiple meals per day, is not a new concept in away-from-home dining. Look at any casual-dining menu today and it is clear that small plates, "lunch for dinner" and take-home meals for "later" are a reaction to this consumer trend.
Convenience store retailers are in the enviable position as the top venue for "snacking," according to shoppers. In addition, c-stores are more likely than other venues to be open 24 hours a day, which supports offering, for example, breakfast 24 hours a day.
Finally, convenience stores have a unique set of patrons that are in-transit or working on shifts, which makes the traditional mealpart difficult to market, capture and define.
Customization & Shopper "Need-States" Drive Purchases
Customizing menus and food offerings by store location may seem daunting, However, convenience store operators already understand (or should) the demographics of their store locations in terms of limited-time offers, promotions and other target marketing tactics.
This step of providing breakfast all day, or offering energy foods/drinks during the afternoon and late-night hours would only be another step in the process. Suppliers are in a strong position to gain from this local store knowledge as well, in order to best position and place their products.
The questions c-store operators and suppliers should be asking include:
- Would our top-selling items sell well during another timeframe? Could we offer it all day?
- Have we polled our customers and asked if they want roller grill food, breakfast sandwiches, pasta salads, etc., longer (or shorter) than what we currently offer?
- Are we willing (as an operator) to deal with 15-20 percent waste during this process?
- What equipment do we have that may help us offer a wider variety of hot items for longer or shorter periods?
There are, of course, a number of other questions to be answered. But Q1 Consulting believes that a new way of thinking must occur outside of "dayparts" for c-stores to truly capitalize on their strong grazing position.
Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.