The convenience store long has been a place where one could grab a quick slushy on the way home from school or a bag of chips on the road. But a funny thing has happened: Those little stores with mostly junk food are transforming into meccas of grab-and-go meals – both the kind that can be eaten as is or quickly warmed for a hot meal.
“We are seeing both of these segments grow,” Kwik Trip foodservice director Paul Servais told Convenience Store News (May 16). The convenience store chain features its Kitchen Cravings Take Home Meals, which are prepared daily and include cooking instructions for selections like chicken casserole and beef stroganoff as well as several varieties of pasta.
Servais said the company was confident the take home meals program will grow over time.
And it’s not just singles who are opting for these meals, which generally are priced lower than restaurant takeout, but people buying for a whole family. The already prepared meals eliminate the time it takes to shop for ingredients as well as the process of cooking a meal from scratch.
An iSHOP survey indicated the grab-and-go phenomenon spans breakfast, lunch and dinner, especially now with more people working from home as a result of the pandemic.
“Convenience stores, especially in rural areas and food deserts, have often stood in for traditional grocery stores,” Nancy Jo Seaton of Seaton Food Consultants told The Food Institute. “They are well placed, near commuter hubs (bus and train stations), travel centers (gas stations) and often the last bastion of commerce before the roads turn from asphalt to dirt. This made them even more important during the pandemic for those who had limited range (walking distance) and funds (avoiding delivery fees).
“Younger consumers have always seen the convenience store as ‘a place for anything and everything’ so, as those consumers age into family responsibilities, it makes sense for the convenience sector to grow with their needs.”
In addition to convenience, grab-and-go helps eliminate food waste, said Tania Long, a nutritionist at Mealfan. She also said cooking fatigue induced by the pandemic is giving the sector a boost.
A 2020 webinar by the Mattson consulting firm advised grocers and convenience stores to put together combo meals, offering consumers a one-stop approach to meal planning.
“This trend towards increased reliance on prepared meals is not going away,” Bennett Hirsch of Charlie’s Table Inc. said in an email, noting marketers know just how busy consumers are and are working to make grab-and-go options even easier.
For Reese Jackson, owner operator of Savor Training Co., grab-and-go from a convenience store is a no-brainer.
“There are three convenience stores I pass on the way to the grocery store. I can save time by just stopping at one of those, and usually it’s really simple to heat up. The natural next step is for those convenience stores to deliver. People will always choose the most convenient method if they are able to afford it and sometimes even when they can’t,” Jackson said.