NATIONAL REPORT — When a hungry customer makes a prepared food purchase, they typically face a binary choice: made-to-order, which maximizes freshness and customization, or grab-and-go, which offers items that can be consumed within the next few hours as they are out and about. Changing consumer behavior, however, has prompted increased sales of a third option: grab-and-go-home.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a shift in consumer behavior has seen convenience store grab-and-go visits decline 7.2 percent, while grab-and-go-home visits are up 3.4 percent, according to The Coca-Cola Co.'s iSHOP Study.
"Because consumers are spending more time at home and within the proximity of their local community, their needs have changed," said Stephanie McMahan, category leadership, small store shopper insights, North America operating unit, The Coca-Cola Co. "Retailers can capture more grab-and-go-home trips with expanded immediate-consumption and future-consumption food and beverage product offers that reach beyond in-store shoppers and help consumers solve the need to provide for additional household members and occasions.”
La Crosse, Wis.-based convenience store chain Kwik Trip Inc. divides its grab-and-go-home offering into two types: hot and ready to eat, or heat it when you get home.
"We are seeing both of these segments grow," Kwik Trip Foodservice Director Paul Servais told Convenience Store News, acknowledging though that "it is a hard business to break into” and “no one has completely figured this out."
The shift toward grab-and-go-home largely comes from today’s consumers gaining a new perspective on old purchase motivators: speed and convenience.
"Consumers are now evolving the previous 'grab-and-go' mindset to a 'grab-for-myself-and-other-people' behavior," McMahan said. "While time is always a consideration, when consumers are on their way home to hungry household members, the speed of grab-and-go-home may be even more appealing."
On the surface, it would appear that this increased focus on quick food purchases for hungry people at home could boost the dinner daypart, which has long been a challenge for the c-store industry. But Coca-Cola's research shows that grab-and-go-home trips span multiple dayparts relatively evenly, in part because of the pandemic era work-from-home lifestyle. In 2021, a quarter of grab-and-go-home trips took place in the morning, 21 percent occurred in the afternoon, and 27 percent occurred in the evening.
What to Offer
For c-store operators, catering to grab-and-go-home customers doesn't have to mean offering something drastically different from their existing grab-and-go lineup. The main difference lies in emphasizing accessibility and the ability to purchase multiple portions.
Grab-and-go-home can include a wide variety of options, including larger individual product sizes, packaging designed for multiples of the same item, bundle deals, meal prep kits, take-home meals, and more.
"When getting started, it's best if retailers do a bit of experimentation," advises Patrick Sebring, vice president of c-store sales at Smithfield Culinary. "With limited space and facing difficult labor issues, consider offering a couple of different items/packaging types at first and see how it goes. Look at what sells vs. what doesn't.”
Retailers must also take a hard look at their staff and determine what they can deliver well and efficiently. "It doesn't matter if something is great if you can't make it every day," he noted.
Spicewood, Texas-based Texas Born (TXB) convenience stores are all about bundling, according to CEO Kevin Smartt. TXB offers such bundles as six tacos in a package, or large quantities of chicken to cater to families. "We find those customers are typically good repeat customers for us. They appreciate the bundles," Smartt said.
With the effects of inflation being felt across the board, offering grab-and-go-home bundles can give c-stores an advantage over quick-service restaurants and other foodservice retailers.
"People will be looking for value opportunities for take-home," Smartt pointed out.
Servais recommends that convenience retailers seeking a starting point for grab-and-go-home begin with hot offerings such as chicken wings and pizza, particularly in family-size.
Kwik Trip is known for its Kitchen Cravings Take Home Meals program. Launched in 2019, the meals are prepared daily and individually packaged with full cooking instructions on the label. Standard selections include customer favorites like cheesy chicken casserole, beef stroganoff and multiple pasta meals, along with a smaller lineup of limited-time offers (LTOs).
"We have a strong core menu now with things like mac 'n cheese, chicken alfredo, meatloaf," Servais said. "The LTO selections are more about us finding the right meals for the future. Every month, we introduce two meals for a limited time, and we are looking for meals that 'stick.'"
C-store operators should not expect sales to skyrocket immediately as it takes time to change customers' buying habits, the foodservice executive cautioned.
"Long-term, we look for the Take Home Meals program to grow and become a significant part of our food sales, but we realize this will take a while," Servais said.