NATIONAL REPORT — As convenience store operators rise up in the foodservice echelon, and the lines between channels continue to blur, all foodservice retailers represent some form of competition to c-stores. But by recognizing what shoppers desire from their prepared food and beverage purchases, c-store operators can boost sales, improve customer satisfaction, and gain share from competitors.
Beth Brickel, senior research director on the Insights and Innovation Team at EnsembleIQ, parent company of Convenience Store News, shared insights gleaned from new exclusive research at the 2019 CSNews Convenience Foodservice Exchange event.
The national study identified and created profiles of shoppers who primarily visit c-stores, grocery stores or fast food outlets, and then compared these profiles in regards to their thoughts on prepared foods and prepared beverages in various establishments.
On average, convenience stores scored well when shoppers evaluated the channel on key satisfaction drivers. Still, c-store performance could be improved in taste, freshness, food safety, appearance and quality. Customization also could use some improvement, particularly since this is becoming a standard expectation for the younger generations.
To improve sales, convenience retailers need to understand what prevents non-c-store shoppers from making foodservice purchases at their stores. Food freshness and food quality top fast food and grocery shoppers' lists of reasons not to buy c-store food. Fast food shoppers were also likely to cite a preference for other stores, or say that the food doesn't look good at c-stores. Grocery shoppers are concerned with a lack of healthy options.
Appealing to these consumers goes beyond changing the actual food. Perception matters as much as reality, with perceptions of freshness driven by store and merchandising cues, particularly store cleanliness and having a clear/uncluttered store, both of which were listed by 90 percent of study participants. The care and attention that employees give the store itself is an indicator to consumers of how they will approach food preparation.
Better-for-you options and more choices are also among the factors that would prompt non-c-store shoppers to make a purchase. Offering "a selection of healthier options" was cited by 38 percent of grocery shoppers and 33 percent of fast food shoppers, while "wider variety" was cited by 35 percent of grocery shoppers and 30 percent of fast food shoppers.
Freshness continues to be paramount as well, with preparation date and freshness information emerging as a top motivator, listed by 39 percent of grocery shoppers and 34 percent of fast food shoppers. The ability to customize orders, information about how food is prepared, and "easier to eat while on the go" are other top motivators.
When it comes to the price and environment, grocery and fast food shoppers care about price and environment more than customer service, sales and promotions, or free samples. More than four in 10 non-c-store shoppers listed a cleaner store as being important (46 percent of grocery shoppers and 44 percent of fast food shoppers) and the same goes for lower prices (43 percent of grocery shoppers and 37 percent of fast food shoppers).
Purchase influence is foremost in the form of word of mouth, as 47 percent of shoppers listen to recommendations from friends or family when deciding where to purchase food and beverages. However, in today's forever-connected world, digital sources are important, too.
Nearly a third of shoppers report using restaurant review sites and 30 percent use mapping sites, which frequently offer much more than just directions. C-store shoppers are more likely to check social media compared to either grocery or fast food shoppers.