Grocery Category a Mixed Bag for C-stores

While the overall edible grocery category experienced a 2.5-percent decline in average sales per store in 2009, the perishables subcategory, which includes produce, saw another year of double-digit growth. Sales grew 12.4 percent on a per-store basis last year, following a 10.8-percent increase the year before and a 9.9-percent increase in 2007. Perishables' share of total category sales also got a boost, rising 1.1 percentage points to reach 8.4 percent.

The other subcategory to post a sales increase last year was packaged dairy and deli, where sales grew a meager 0.8 percent per store to $16,787. Every other edible grocery segment, however, showed a decline in sales per store, with packaged bread down 1.4 percent; frozen food down 3.3 percent; and all other edible grocery (canned goods, pasta, cereal, condiments, etc.) down 8.1 percent for the year.

These numbers were a departure from 2008 when rising gasoline prices drove consumers to combine shopping trips. Convenience stores benefited by picking up more fill-in purchases, and that year, per-store edible grocery sales increased 3.9 percent on average.

Even though the consolidation trend didn't sustain through 2009, some convenience store operators — particularly those with stores in less-populated areas of the country — reported surges in the grocery category. These retailers improved their category management by adjusting, and in some segments, expanding their offering to better meet consumer needs.

They also got more price-competitive by frequently scoping out the supermarkets and other convenience stores in their area to make sure their prices were in line, along with seeking out opportunities to present "everyday value" items or dollar items in the category.

Bottom Line:

Coming off a good performance in 2008, edible grocery sales declined in 2009.

The bright spot was the perishables subcategory, which again saw double-digit growth.

Some convenience store retailers did outperform the average by improving their category management and getting more competitive on price.
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