C-store Customers Seek Freshness & Quality at Lunchtime

MINNEAPOLIS – Although lunch is an important daypart for convenience stores, retailers face stiff competition from fast-food restaurants, coffee shops and other foodservice operators. To get customers' attention, c-stores should focus on freshness, quality and cleanliness, according to a research study conducted by General Mills Convenience & Foodservice.

More than 400 c-store food and beverage shoppers, aged 18 to 64, participated in a nationwide online survey in January. All participants reported regularly purchasing lunch on the go from venues such as fast-food and fast-casual restaurants, coffee shops and c-stores.

Key considerations at lunch include fresh food, high-quality food and a clean store environment, according to participating shoppers. The most important factors they cited for choosing a lunch destination are:

  • Food items taste fresh (67 percent)
  • The location is clean (61 percent)
  • Has quality lunch food (54 percent)
  • Location is convenient (52 percent)
  • Good value for the money (52 percent)

C-stores that offer made-to-order products have strong satisfaction levels because shoppers can customize their orders. This reinforces that the food is fresh.

Overall, 42 percent of shoppers said they are "very satisfied" with lunch at c-stores, but a satisfaction gap exists between stores with made-to-order food (59 percent) and those that do not offer made-to-order food (34 percent).

Additionally, satisfaction levels for c-stores that offer made-to-order items exceed those of fast-food restaurants, with only 47 percent of shoppers reporting they are "very satisfied" with fast-food lunch.

Still, fast-food restaurants are the greatest threat for lunchtime business, General Mills found. Sixty percent of shoppers indicate that fast food is the top alternative to c-stores for on-the-go lunch. Convenience, tasty hot lunch items and filling portions are the top three reasons for choosing fast food.

"Quality food is critical for success at lunchtime, and quality is all about freshness. In fact, the desire for freshness is a pattern we see in the morning as well. Stores looking to grow their lunch business need to focus on and communicate the freshness and quality of their offerings," said Chris Quam, consumer insights manager at General Mills Convenience & Foodservice. "Making items in-store is the best way to do that. And messaging, such as 'made fresh daily,' can also go a long way. Additionally, convenience stores have a weapon that fast food does not: a broad range of cold beverages and salty snacks. Cross-promoting these categories with fresh lunch items is a key way to build lunchtime baskets."

Based in Minneapolis, the General Mills Convenience & Foodservice division serves the convenience, foodservice and bakery industries.

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