As traditional convenience store products slip in demand, c-store operators must place a stronger emphasis on prepared foods to improve profits. A growing number of c-store chains are providing high-quality, quick food supported by appealing, food-forward marketing. For quick-service restaurants (QSRs), this means many c-stores are now direct competitors.
Grocery stores are also focusing on prepared foods. Grocery retailers were once very different from restaurants, serving customers’ needs for in-home meal preparation. But today, prepared, ready-to-eat meals and snacks are readily available in this channel. Grocery stores’ prepared meals offer quality and are growing in variety.
C-stores and grocery stores, historically different concepts, now compete in the same space as traditional QSRs for the same customer and the same occasion. And most customers are using multiple channels to purchase food for immediate consumption. Fewer than one in four U.S. consumers are exclusive QSR users for these meal occasions. Those who are exclusive QSR customers are just as likely to dine in or take away as other QSR users.
Off-premise visits made by exclusive QSR buyers are likely vulnerable to shifts to other channels. The extent of the customer-sharing, as seen through NPD research, demonstrates the channel blurring happening among retail and traditional quick foodservice segments.
Quick and convenient food from c-stores and grocery stores incrementally adds customers to the fast food/foodservice market. Further, the number of fast-food purchases made by customers using these outlets is more than six visits higher in an average four-week period.
RETAIL QSR VS. TRADITIONAL QSR
Traditional QSRs offering morning meals are most likely to feel the impact of c-stores on their customer base. These occasions are likely in-and-out, grab-and-go visits where convenience and fast service trump QSR chain preference.
Between-meal purchases/snacks is another competitive daypart. C-stores hold their highest share of these product categories: coffee, snacks, breakfast foods and soft drinks. Product offerings vary, with some c-store chains emphasizing prepared foods more than others.
Grocery stores hold a high share of purchases of chicken, side dishes and salads. They are providing a ready-to-consume meal for the family — easy, convenient and an opportunity to meet the needs of multiple family members.
Retail foodservice at c-stores and grocery stores is growing and expected to continue to grow. This growth delivers new and very different insights about the structure of the quick foodservice market from a consumer perspective. Consumers have a need for convenient, quick, high-quality prepared foods and whichever channel fills that need is where they will visit.
The challenge for c-stores is to find the best way to stand out among a diverse set of competitors in order to grow market share.