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09/20/2021

Despite Sluggish Category Performances, C-store Sales Growth Remains Steady

Foodservice, candy and salty snacks struggle to reach pre-pandemic levels, according to the monthly PDI C-store Shopper Trends Report.

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Despite rising concerns over new coronavirus variants, convenience channel sales growth is holding steady even as some categories' performances remain low compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Traditionally one of the "heavy hitter" categories, foodservice saw its first sales decline in 2020 and has been slow to rebound. Although trips including foodservice in the basket are on the rise again in 2021, they're still behind pre-pandemic levels, according to the August 2021 C-store Shopper Trends Report from PDI, powered by PDI Insights Cloud data.

This month's installment of the insights report highlights the slowdown of foodservice, candy and salty snack category performance compared to pre-pandemic levels, as well as the industry's growth amid ongoing recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2021 Convenience Store News Foodservice Study found that consumers look to food quality and price/value as the two biggest factors for foodservice prepared onsite. Fresh options are a priority for shoppers who want to be sure they're getting the best quality, while cautious consumers have grown accustomed to mobile ordering and delivery during the pandemic and continue to expect these options for prepared food.

There has been a 50-plus-percent increase in customer foot traffic to restaurants, bakeries and cafés since January 2021, according to a study from Zenreach. However, this has not adversely impacted the rebound of foodservice at c-stores, where the category has been steadily increasing since the start of the year. 

To drive more foodservice growth, PDI suggests that convenience retailers entice consumers to buy an additional item by offering bundles and promotions.

Daypart Opportunities

Of the top seven selling categories at convenience stores, packaged beverages, beer, other tobacco products and candy are all benefiting from double-digit top-line growth when compared to 2019. 

Trips containing candy have increased vs. 2020, but still lag behind the category's 2019 performance. Top-line candy sales have grown as a result of basket spend remaining high, with non-chocolate leading the way.

On the not-so-savory side of things, salty snacks have not fared as well, with trips containing the category still lagging pre-pandemic levels.

There are a few opportunities for growth, however. PDI advises c-store operators to recapture the late afternoon/evening rush with snack sales, optimize potato chips to satisfy afternoon cravings, and leverage candy to fuel the evening crowd as a sweet pick-me-up.

PDI's monthly C-store Shopper Trends Report combines consumer buying data from 5,500 mid- to large-sized convenience retailers across all key U.S. geographic locations. Alpharetta-based Professional Datasolutions Inc. (PDI) helps convenience retailers and petroleum wholesalers thrive through digital transformation and enterprise software.