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Food Forward


“Food forward” is quickly becoming a mantra of the convenience store industry’s top retailers. Simply put, it means putting fresh, high-quality foodservice items forward in convenience stores so when customers walk in, that’s the first thing they see and the first impression they get.

Food forward also means tending to the foodservice needs of today’s consumers while looking ahead and preparing to meet the evolving needs of consumers well into the future.

Ten years from now, in the year 2025, convenience store customers will be more knowledgeable about the foods and beverages they buy and where they buy them from; have more choices than ever before; be more demanding and maintain higher standards; crave an experience rather than just a transaction; and face an even greater lack of time than they do today, according to the c-store retailers in attendance at the recent Convenience Store News Foodservice Summit.

The 2015 Foodservice Summit, held March 10–11 at Kendall College in Chicago, marked the fourth consecutive year that Convenience Store News and Tyson Convenience Foodservice partnered to bring convenience store foodservice professionals together to discuss the latest trends in the category, exchange best practices and tackle common challenges.

This year’s event took on a decidedly futuristic feel. In fact, much of the roundtable discussions and activities revolved around the idea of convenience foodservice in 2025. A special “concept development” presentation created live by Kendall College culinary arts alumni under the supervision of consultant David Mills went so far as to illustrate what c-store foodservice 10 years from now will be in terms of offer, presentation, packaging, value, marketing, etc.

Using insights gained from a consumer focus group held the night before, as well as morning input from the c-store professionals as to where they see convenience foodservice headed, the “idea team” was tasked with bringing blue-sky ideas to the group that same afternoon.

Asked to finish the phrase, “In 2025, convenience stores will be…,” retailers said:

  • More willing to take risks.
  • No longer reliant on gas pumps as the destination driver.
  • Food forward instead of fuel forward.
  • Moving from transactions to interactions.
  • Breaking out from their quick-service restaurant (QSR) competitors.
  • Being leaders instead of fast followers.

“Today, c-stores are almost as good but not as good as the destination [like Starbucks for coffee or Chipotle for quick Mexican fare]. In 2025, we’re not going to do half-measures. We’re going to decide what we want to be and be that,” one retailer at the Summit remarked.


The millennial generation will play a major role in the future of convenience foodservice and therefore the “idea team” was asked to heavily consider millennials (those currently aged 18–34) when coming up with their ideas for new flavors, new forms and new functions.

“The prevalence, prominence and importance of the millennial shopper is becoming more and more evident in all areas of spending, but especially so for food consumed away from home. It is a group of shoppers more interested in eating away from home with customization, quality and value top of mind,” Mills said. “With increased competition from improved quality offerings at QSRs and the significant growth of an all-new format of on-the-go foodservice — fast-casual restaurants — convenience stores have to position themselves with products, service and messages that not only communicate but also connect in a brand-new way with this group of individuals.”

Based on what they’re seeing in their stores today, the retailers said millennials in the future will be most influenced by technology (particularly how technology plays into the overall store experience); personalization (the next step up from customization); transparency around food (they want to know the journey of the ingredients they’re consuming); snacking (not just between meals but in place of meals); and mindfulness (serving a greater purpose).

So, taking all of this into consideration, what did the “idea team” dream up for c-store foodservice in 2025? A lot actually. Among the big ideas they presented to the group were:

  • H20 Flavor Station — A fountain program for flavored waters.
  • Craft” Section — A section of the convenience store that focuses on small-batch items. Merchandise would be rotated regularly to ensure a steady stream of new products.
  • “The Green Thing” — An overall focus on green practices would include all LEED-certified buildings, use of solar and wind energy, and a hydroponic garden for on-site growing of fruits and vegetables that could then be sold whole, cut or used in foodservice recipes.
  • “Welcome Dundee” — By leveraging the technology built into smartphones, c-store retailers could recognize and give a personalized welcome to each customer as they enter the store. While shoppers navigate the aisles, a notification could go out inviting them to a food sampling taking place at the time, where they can give instant feedback and be rewarded with a coupon for a free item. As they exit the store, a personalized “thank you” message would complete their visit.
  • Ramen Station — A make-your-own bar where guests can choose their ramen noodles, broth and condiments. The customization-focused concept could be extended to a food truck.
  • “Shotgun” Packaging — Designed especially for customers who like to eat in their vehicles or dine while driving, this packaging would fit securely in the passenger seat and have easy-to-access openings for your food, beverage, condiments, utensils, napkins, etc. No more having to dig around in bags.
  • Checkout by Sensor — The next innovation in self-checkout. This system would allow shoppers to put all their items on a pad where a sensor would automatically read and register the complete purchase at once. Shoppers would then pay using mobile payment.
  • Snack Lottery — A pick-your-own section where customers could choose from a variety of nuts, fruits, grains, proteins and dips. The pricing could be set at four choices for $5.
  • Multi-Faceted Packaging — This could include seed-infused packaging that if not put into a receptacle, would be biodegradable and serve a greater purpose. Other options: edible utensils, packaging that can infuse flavor into food, and a heat-activation sticker for coffee cups.
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