Convenience-store operators are embracing creativity. According to the National Association of Convenience Stores, 70% of C-store leaders say innovating foodservice offerings is a top priority.
C-store customers seem ready for the innovation as well.
“C-stores can be a place where consumers are willing and even excited to try new things, without a lot of investment required,” Justin Baxley, VP of retail product management at PDI Technologies, told The Food Institute. “Consumers have an increasingly high level of food curiosity, so convenience stores that have diversified food stations, with various options, will likely perform well.”
The trick for C-store operators is delivering those food options in a timely manner to customers who are increasingly busy with time in short supply.
“The amenities included in the C-store of the future will be … a large variety of products, readily available product information, and an overall expeditious shopping trip,” said Phillippe Bottine, North American CEO of SES-imagotag, which focuses on physical retail.
The topic of C-stores’ evolution is discussed extensively in this month’s Food Institute report, available to members March 1 (to join FI, click here).
Industry experts say convenience store customers have come to expect swift checkout processes and even digital shelf tags that can provide QR codes for additional product information.
“Technology is going to be a crucial element of the C-store of the future, from customer service to cashier to inventory manager,” Bottine said.
Ultimately, industry experts note, C-stores need to start offering far more of almost everything – from fresh pastries, breakfast burritos, micro-brews, and smoothies.
Society’s slow but reasonably steady shift to electric vehicles could be a C-store game-changer too, industry insiders say. After all, charging an EV requires drivers to kill 20 minutes or more – which offers C-stores an opportunity to sell food items, assuming they’ve provided customers with comfortable seating areas and amenities like big-screen TVs.
“With EV charging wait times, C-stores need to give customers the option to linger while their car charges, and a comfortable place to sit,” noted Billy Plummer and Carlie Russell, veteran employees at global architecture firm CRTKL, in written commentary provided to The Food Institute. “C-stores are really (adapting] to give their customers so many more options for healthy and fast food. What we’re seeing is that fresh food – made on site, in front of the customer – works very well.
“Of course C-stores will still have the option of packaged fresh food,” the industry experts added. “But more options for the customer is the trend.”