Skip to main content

Convenience Stores Hit the Sweet Spot With Consumers

Retailers discussed the potential of the channel for candy and snack sales at the 2024 Sweets & Snacks Expo.
Melissa Kress
The logo for the Sweets & Snacks Expo

INDIANAPOLIS — With more than 152,000 stores across the United States, the convenience channel plays a pivotal role in the daily lives of the vast majority of consumers.

As Lori Buss Stillman, vice president of research and education at NACS, pointed out, 93% of Americans say they are within 10 minutes of a convenience store, and half of the U.S. population over the age of 14 shops a c-store every day. When it comes to treating themselves, one in three shoppers seek a snack as part of their convenience trip.

[Read more: Shifting Consumer Behaviors Blur the Lines Between Snacking & Meals]

Advertisement - article continues below

"The No. 1 trip driver is a carbonated beverage and [shoppers] are looking for something to go with it," Buss Stillman said during "The Untapped Potential of Convenience Retail" session at the 2024 Sweets & Snacks Expo.

Drilling deeper into the candy and snacks category, she noted:

  • 75% of salty snack shoppers are in a convenience store once a week;
  • One in five salty snack shoppers are in a c-store every day;
  • 48% of candy shoppers are in a convenience store once a week;
  • 25% of candy shoppers are in a c-store every day; and
  • 11.8% of all inside sales come from the candy and snacks category.

Opportunity Knocks 

Media, Pa.-based Wawa Inc. is on a foodservice journey to become a go-to food retailer, and part of that journey is adjacent categories. 

"We are driving with foodservice and we also want you to pick up a candy bar, an energy bar or a bag of chips. It's about building the basket," explained Leslie Edmiston, senior category manager of tobacco and snacks at Wawa. "But we really want to meet the consumer's shopping occasion."

Kwik Trip Inc. also sees opportunity with candy and snacks. The La Crosse, Wis.-based convenience store retailer is well positioned with its bakery offering and private-label line, according to Jackie Stalsberg, category manager, center store at Kwik Trip. 

[Read more: Kwik Trip Introduces Doughnut-Inspired Potato Chips]

The c-store chain also sees its loyalty program — with more than 4 million members — as a key driver of candy and snack sales, especially when it comes to Generation Z. 

"Gen Z is always willing to try the new item and we can drive them with digital coupons," Stalsberg said, adding that Kwik Trip is doing work around personalization with this demographic.

Introducing Innovation

Convenience retailers are only one side of the innovation equation; suppliers are the other side. According to Wawa's Edmiston, if manufacturers and suppliers want to capitalize on innovative products, they have to make it easy for the retailer to bring the items into the store and sell them.

Tim Young, business account manager at Crossmark, agreed. "First and foremost, listen to your retailer. Understand their needs and make it simple for them," he advised the suppliers in the audience, noting that it would be a good idea to visit with their retailer partners and get a firsthand look at their stores. 

Edmiston called out some new trends in candy and snack innovation, such as freeze-dried candy, mashups and Asian-infused brands. 

"I am excited to see innovation coming back. It excites customers and brings them back to the category," she said. 

[Read more: Innovative New Products Honored at Annual Sweets & Snacks Expo]

New products, though, do lead to an age-old problem: How do you find the space to add them to your merchandising mix? "The data is your friend," Young said. "Data tends to take the emotion out of the decisions."

Edmiston echoed this advice. "Operators are hungry for data. Show them how and where [the products] play," she added. 

Inflation Woes

Like other areas of the c-store, the candy and snacks category is not immune to the economic pressures consumers are facing. According to Stalsberg, Kwik Trip customers are price-shopping and taking advantage of coupons.

"We are constantly looking to bundle items to keep that basket," she said. 

Wawa's customers still have that $20 in their wallet, but that $20 is being stretched, Edmiston pointed out. "Largely, they want the brands that they want, but they are buying one less," she reported. "We are still seeing our loyal customers in our stores, but we are seeing them less. We are all in this limbo space: What does it mean for the category? What does it mean for the basket?"

To overcome these challenges, retailers should leverage their loyalty programs, Young recommended. 

The 2024 Sweets & Snacks Expo took place May 14-16 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. The annual trade show features new product launches, business-building solutions and merchandising innovations. The event is sponsored by the National Confectioners Association, the leading trade organization for the $48 billion U.S. confectionery industry. 

About the Author

Melissa Kress

Melissa Kress

Melissa Kress is Executive Editor of Convenience Store News. She joined the brand in 2010. Melissa handles much of CSNews' hard news coverage, such as mergers and acquisitions and company financial reports, and the technology beat. She is also one of the industry's leading media experts on the tobacco category.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds