It appears the movement of c-store retailers to upgrade the quality and variety of their foodservice offerings is gaining traction with consumers who certainly are not lacking for dining choices.

More than six in 10 consumers surveyed for this year’s Realities of the Aisle study said they purchased prepared food at a convenience store in the past month. This is an encouraging increase compared to last year when 55 percent of consumers said the same.

And it’s not only prepared food that more consumers are embracing at c-stores. Nearly 41 percent of respondents this year, vs. 36 percent last year, said they purchased a hot beverage (coffee, cappuccino, tea, etc.) in the past month at a convenience store. Likewise, 37 percent this year, vs. 31 percent the prior year, bought a cold dispensed drink.

What’s driving these positive numbers? High satisfaction levels among purchasers of c-store prepared food and dispensed beverages are surely working in the category’s favor. When asked how satisfied they were with their last purchase, 89 percent of hot beverage buyers, 93 percent of fountain buyers and 83 percent of prepared food buyers said “extremely” or “very” satisfied.

These satisfaction levels are particularly good news for c-stores given the fact that consumers now cite food quality as the most important attribute in their decision-making. Whereas last year, price/value and food quality tied for the top spot, this year food quality has risen to No. 1. Taste, freshness and convenience/on-the-go round out the top five most important attributes.

Among the 61 percent of surveyed consumers who said they purchased prepared food at a c-store in the past month, the mean number of times they did so was 4.62 and the mean amount they spent for the month was $44.93, which would average out to roughly $9.72 per buy.

Hot dogs, breakfast sandwiches, deli/sandwiches, pizza and other breakfast foods (e.g. fresh muffins, biscuits and bagels) were cited as the five most-purchased types of prepared food. Interestingly, although consumers say they want to eat healthier, neither salads, fresh-cut fruit, fresh fruit/veggie smoothies nor fresh-cut vegetables cracked the top 10.

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