However, there’s still room for improvement. In a February 2019 survey, 27% of consumers said they were buying foodservice items from c-stores less often than usual—an increase of 6 percentage points from February 2018 and a 19-point increase from February 2016, according to Technomic’s Ignite menu data. And as of November 2019, nearly a quarter (22%) of consumers said they were purchasing c-store food less often than usual.
To help retailers navigate foodservice, CSP has pinpointed four trends absorbing the attention of today’s consumers: plant-based/vegan foods, global flavors, breakfast innovation and indulgence.
Plant-Based and Vegan
Plant-based items captivated the attention of consumers in 2019, whether seen in vegan energy bars, almond milks or veggie-based snacks. Plant-based meat alternatives also skyrocketed last year: Nearly a quarter (23%) of all consumers and 29% of millennials said they would consider ordering plant-based burgers at a foodservice establishment, according to Technomic’s Convenience Market 2019 Annual Report. Consumers can dabble in plant-based burgers at a handful of c-store chains today, including Rutter’s and Sheetz, while Alltown Fresh highlights plant-based creamers and milks at its coffee bar.
Consumer demands for flavor innovation have resulted in a variety of international dishes emerging on c-store menus. Although sandwiches, hot dogs and wraps still dominate in convenience, Mexican fare grew on 15.5% of c-store menus in 2019—more than any other type of item, according to Technomic’s Ignite menu data. This growth is a result of c-stores in general adding more ethnic options to meet growing consumer demand, Technomic said. Kwik Chek Food Stores offers chorizo tacos on its menu, while QMart, a division of Northwest Petroleum, offers a variety of international dishes such as Vietnamese banh mi tacos and Indian samosas.
They don’t call breakfast the most important meal of the day for nothing. Ninety percent of c-store operators serve breakfast, and more than one in four (37%) expect breakfast to have the highest rate of sales growth of all the dayparts in 2020, according to Technomic’s Convenience Market 2019 Annual Report. Nonetheless, breakfast consumption is slowly declining. A fifth of consumers overall said they skip breakfast at least once a week, a 2% increase from 2017, according to Technomic’s 2019 Breakfast Consumer Trend Report. Retailers are increasingly implementing all-day breakfast and adding new healthy and indulgent products to their menus to boost the morning daypart.
While two-thirds of consumers want c-stores to offer more healthy foods, according to Technomic, indulgent foods still have appeal. Technomic found that ice cream, doughnuts, cookies, pizza and other high-calorie, sweet, crispy and cheesy favorites claim a greater share of c-store foodservice purchases compared to healthier items. Furthermore, 51% of consumers say c-stores excel at offering indulgent options, while 33% say c-stores do a better job of offering indulgent food and drink than fast-food restaurants do.