'CSNews' First Look at 2008 Year-end Category Results

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'CSNews' First Look at 2008 Year-end Category Results

NEW YORK -- As the number of c-stores in the U.S. decreased 1 percent in 2008, dollar sales in key in-store edible UPC-coded merchandise categories rose by less than 3 percent, while unit volume declined by almost 2 percent, according to the newest figures from Nielsen’s Scantrack Convenience survey.

In the industry’s first look at consolidated 2008 preliminary sales results, the new Convenience Store News Category Management Study reveals eight key in-store product categories, including packaged beverages, beer, other tobacco products (OTP), candy and salty snacks, achieved modest dollar growth last year, ranging from a high of 4.4 percent for candy and a low of 1.3 percent for packaged beverages. However, much of the dollar growth was the apparent result of price increases, as all but the major categories except OTP showed unit volume declines in 2008.

The slowdown in sales follows a pattern begun in 2007, when the 3.8-percent increase in total in-store sales was the smallest increase since a 2.4-percent gain in 2002. Excluding foodservice, in-store merchandise categories grew by only 2.9 percent in 2007.

In 2008, c-stores felt the dual effects of $4 a gallon gas prices on their inside sales in the summer and the start of a nationwide recession in the fall.

The unit volume declines in many merchandise categories also come as little surprise considering the rare decline in total number of stores, reported by CSNews’ sister company, TDLinx, which provides store count information for both CSNews’ annual Industry Report and NACS -- the Association for Convenience and Petroleum Retailing.

As of Dec. 31, 2008, there were 144,875 c-stores operating in the U.S., a decrease of 1,419 stores -- only the third time in the last 15 years that the industry’s store count has declined.

A complete report on dollar and unit sales in packaged beverages, beer, OTP, candy, salty snacks and alternative snacks -- including subcategories -- will be featured in CSNews’ March 30 issue.

The final say on the industry’s total sales and profit performance, including store operating expense analysis, sales and margin performance in motor fuel, foodservice and cigarettes, along with other industry operational data will be available June 1, when CSNews releases its 34th Annual Industry Report.