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C-store Customers Value Healthy Food, But Most Operators Still Lag Behind in Meeting This Demand


DUBLIN, Ohio — Today's core convenience store shopper demographic includes millennials and members of Generation Z, who came of age after many top-quartile operators began upgrading their foodservice offerings to resemble fast-casual competitors with fresh, made-to-order healthy fare.

However, the c-store channel as a whole hasn't necessarily caught up with this demand, according to consultancy Foodservice IP.

Consumers have changed many of their habits during the COVID-19 pandemic — such as their commuting routines that might have included a visit to a c-store for morning coffee or a quick lunch during breaks from work — but they haven't changed the factors they use to select away-from-home occasions.

Top criteria include convenient location, food offered, taste, affordability and speed of transaction, but health and nutrition is also important to many. Consumers place it in the next selection tier alongside factors such as courteous employees, high-quality ingredients and portion sizes.

When asked how important health and nutrition is when selecting a restaurant, 72 percent of respondents listed healthy and nutritious food. Consumers ages 35-44, a group that includes older millennials and Generation X, were the most likely to list it at 80 percent. However, a majority of all other demographic groups also listed it as important, with at least seven out of 10 in every segment agreeing they factor it in to their choice.

The performance of most c-stores when it comes to healthy food options lags behind several competing channels, and healthy and nutritious food desires are no longer a fad. As millennials and Gen Z become the primary users of away-from-home food, their desires for social responsibility and demand for healthy yet great-tasting food are expected to increase.

These generations are the primary consumers of healthier food, as they have been introduced to a broader menu than older generations ever were. Because they prioritize healthy options, it's a bad idea for c-stores to ignore this foodservice segment, especially since many top quartile c-stores are already doubling down on healthy menu items, according to the report.

As consumers limit their trips and continue to work and study from home, the need for healthy options is expected to increase. Meal kits are already on the rise as consumers seek more convenient ways to achieve a balanced diet during the pandemic.

Additionally, c-stores that provide an ideal one-stop shop where consumers can buy prepared food, gasoline and staples such as milk quickly are more likely to win out for those who want to avoid visiting both a quick-service restaurant and a grocery store.

The overall shift in shopping habits means stocking a variety of healthy food options is key for c-stores that seek to be the one store customers select for a fast trip.

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