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    In-store Categories Drive Consumers

    Cigarettes, beer and prepared food drive frequent visits to c-stores, according to exclusive Convenience Store News consumer research.

    By Debra Chanil, EnsembleIQ

    While it is true that gasoline is the top reason shoppers stop at a c-store (cited by almost three-quarters of c-store shoppers polled), it is also true that more than one-half of these gasoline purchasers make a purchase inside the store. And those food and merchandise products lure customers back into the store time and time again.

    Exclusive research conducted by Convenience Store News earlier this year found roughly 20 percent of cigarette purchasers return to the c-store 15 times or more a month, while 14.2 percent of beer purchasers are there at least 10 times a month. About one-quarter of prepared food purchasers shop c-stores more than once a week. The survey polled 1,085 adults who shopped at a c-store within the past 30 days. Last month, CSNews published Part I of the results, which examined overall shopper behavior. In this issue, we look at consumer purchasing habits for key product categories in a c-store.

    A total of 25 percent of c-store shoppers purchased some type of prepared food at a c-store in the past month. Significantly more males than females made this type of purchase (28.2 percent vs. 22 percent). Households with children also purchased prepared food more often than those without children (32 percent vs. 21.8 percent). Among age segments, 25- to 30-year-olds were most likely to buy prepared food at a c-store (31.6 percent), while those aged 55 or older were least likely (16.2 percent).

    Overall, respondents purchased prepared food at a c-store 4.3 times in the past month. Purchase frequency falls into fairly neat quarters: one-quarter purchased once in a month, another quarter purchased twice, the third quarter bought prepared food three to four times, and the final quarter made these purchases five times or more in a month.

    The late lunch shift of 1 p.m. to 3:59 p.m. sees the most prepared food purchases (22.3 percent), followed closely by the early lunch shift of 11 a.m. to 12:59 p.m. (20.8 percent).

    There appears to be relatively few night owls among c-store shoppers looking for prepared food, as only 2.3 percent buy prepared food after 10 p.m. A total of 9.6 percent of prepared food shoppers make their purchase between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., and purchases at this time are highest among 25- to 34-year-olds, with 14.7 percent buying prepared food at in those evening hours.

    Among food types purchased, the most popular are breakfast foods (bought by 29.5 percent of respondents), deli/sandwiches (28.8 percent) and hot dogs (26.2 percent). Of course, there are regional differences. For example, deli/sandwiches are much more popular in the Northeast, with 41.7 percent of respondents making this purchase in the past month, compared to 24.1 percent in other regions combined. By gender, men have their favorites as well, as 18.4 percent purchase chicken, compared to 9.7 percent of women. Seventeen percent of men also purchase burgers, compared to 8.1 percent of women.

    Looking at age segments, the purchasing behavior of french fries seems to be a good indicator of age, as the age of those buying these delights declines steadily from 20.9 percent among 18- to 24-year-olds through 2.3 percent for those 55 and older. Likewise, fries are purchased by 16.5 percent of respondents with children in the household, compared to 8.0 percent by those without kids.

    Once prepared food is purchased, 49.8 percent of respondents said they eat it in their car, while 37.3 percent take it home to consume. Another 21.4 percent take their purchase back to work, 6.6 percent eat it at the store and 3 percent eat it at school. C-store shoppers in the South were more likely to eat at work than any other region, as 30.4 percent said they take their prepared food from the c-store to their workplace.

    Price/value is the most important factor when considering a prepared food purchase at a c-store, cited by almost three-quarters of all respondents (71.2 percent). Food quality and taste are each considered by more than one-half (57.6 percent and 56.5 percent, respectively). Younger shoppers appear to have the fewest concerns about food quality. Only 41.9 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds cited food quality as the most important factor in deciding to purchase prepared food at a c-store. In comparison, more than 60 percent of those older than 25 cited food quality as important.

    Food quality is significantly more important to older prepared food purchasers at a convenience store. More than 70 percent of those aged 55 or older cited quality as the most important determining factor in their purchase. This older group also considers proper sanitation a more important consideration than younger groups (62.8 percent vs. 28.9 percent).

    When asked where they might have purchased prepared food if they hadn't made this purchase at a c-store, 64.9 percent cited a fast-food restaurant such as McDonald's. Slightly more than one-fifth of respondents would have prepared and eaten food at home, while 7 percent would have gone to a casual-dining restaurant such as Red Lobster, and 4.8 percent would have purchased prepared food from a supermarket if they didn't go to the c-store.

    Among respondents who did not purchase prepared food at a c-store in the past month, the reason given most often for not making this purchase: it was not part of their plan when entering the store (55.7 percent). Slightly more than one-quarter said they were not hungry at the time (27.1 percent), while slightly less than one-quarter said the prepared food items were too expensive (23.7 percent) or they didn't like the selection (19.2 percent).

    BEER
    Of the respondents surveyed, 15.6 percent reported purchasing beer or malt beverages at a c-store in the past month, and those in the 25- to 34-year-old age group were most likely to make this purchase (23.6 percent), while shoppers aged 55 or older were unlikely to do so, with only 5.6 percent buying beer at a c-store in the past month.

    Beer or malt beverages are purchased an average of 4.74 times a month by c-store shoppers, with one-fifth of these shoppers making a purchase five times or more a month (27.8 percent). On average, shoppers in the South and Midwest make the most frequent beer purchases at a c-store in a month (5.51 and 5.32 times, respectively). In the West, shoppers purchase beer four times a month on average, while in the Northeast the frequency is 3.73 times per month. Purchase frequency declines steadily with age, as those in the 18-24 year segment purchasing 5.54 times a month. Frequency goes down to 3.6 times a month for the 55-plus group.

    When asked where else these c-store shoppers purchase beer, more than half cite supermarkets (58.6 percent), followed by mass merchandisers (37.3 percent), liquor and package stores (33.1 percent), drug stores (14.2 percent) and wholesale clubs (11.2 percent). Shoppers in the South did show a preference for mass merchandisers, as this channel is a destination for beer among 49.1 percent of respondents in this region, compared to only 24.2 percent of shoppers in the Northeast who shop mass merchandisers for beer.

    CANDY AND GUM
    Candy or gum was purchased at a c-store by 32.4 percent of respondents, and significantly more shoppers with children in their household purchased candy/gum (41.1 percent), compared to those with no children (28.4 percent). Additionally, fewer shoppers in the 55-plus segment made a purchase in this category, compared to other age segments combined (83.1 percent vs. 62.6 percent, respectively).

    In total, shoppers made an average of 3.67 candy or gum purchases at a c-store in one month, with about one-fifth making five or more purchases (20.5 percent). By region, shoppers in the Northeast made significantly more candy/gum purchases in a month (3.95 times) than those in other regions combined (3.57 times).

    Other popular destinations for candy/gum shoppers are supermarkets (64.1 percent), mass merchandisers (56.4 percent) and drug stores (34.2 percent). While there is little difference between genders in incidence of shopping for these products at supermarkets or drug stores, significantly more women than men do candy shopping at mass merchandisers (63.6 percent vs. 48.5 percent, respectively).

    PACKAGED BEVERAGES
    Some type of packaged beverage -- including soda, bottled water, energy drinks, iced tea and juice -- was purchased at a c-store by 39.4 percent of respondents in the past month. Purchase incidence is highest among 18- to 24-year-olds (48.2 percent vs. 38.1 percent for other age groups combined) and shoppers in the South (45.8 percent vs. 37.1 percent for other regions combined).

    These c-store shoppers averaged 4.65 packaged beverage purchases in a month. Shoppers in the Northeast made significantly more purchases than those in other regions (5.54 vs. 4.45 times). Other high-frequency shoppers include women (5.09 times) and those with income of $100,000 or more (5.02 times).

    Other channels of choice for packaged beverages among these c-store shoppers include supermarkets for almost three-quarters of respondents, mass merchandisers for about one-half and drug stores for almost one-quarter. Regionally, shoppers in the Northeast make these purchases in drug stores more than their counterparts in other parts of the country (33.7 percent vs. 20.4 percent).

    CIGARETTES
    A total of 20.6 percent of convenience store shoppers surveyed purchased cigarettes, and more shoppers in the Northeast make these purchases (23.0 percent), compared to the West (14.9 percent).

    Shoppers purchased cigarettes more often per month than any other category included in this study, at an average of 7.83 times, with one-fifth of shoppers (20.6 percent) making purchases 15 times or more during this time.

    About one-third of c-store cigarette shoppers also buy these products at supermarkets, while one-quarter go to drug stores. Among income segments, 50 percent of respondents posting $100,000 or more purchase cigarettes at drug stores.

    When asked what factors influenced their last cigarette purchase at a c-store, 50 percent of respondents noted they always buy the same brand. Good price/value was cited by 47.8 percent. Also, special promotions for a brand influenced 15.2 percent, while the fact that other stores don't carry cigarettes motivated 5.8 percent.

    By Debra Chanil, EnsembleIQ
    • About Debra Chanil Debra Chanil is Director of Market Research of EnsembleIQ. She can be reached at [email protected]

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