Hartman Group: C-stores' Fresh & Healthy Transformation to Continue

BELLEVUE, Wash. -- As convenience stores begin adding more fresh and healthy options to their product mix, there are some skeptics who doubt customers will choose healthier snacks. However, with the food culture evolving, now is the time to meet the growing demand.

According to new research from the Hartman Group, more than half (53 percent) of all eating occasions are snacking occasions and "health" is an important consideration for 56 percent of snacking occasions.

On any given day, one in 10 non-restaurant eating occasions takes place within an hour of purchasing the food and/or beverage consumed -- "immediate consumption." According to Hartman Eating Occasion Compass data that consists of more than 41,000 total eatings, consumers are four times more likely to go to a convenience store for an immediate consumption occasion than for a non-immediate consumption occasion (14 percent vs. 3 percent, respectively, sourcing from a c-store).

The shift should not be surprising, the Bellevue-based firm said. 7-Eleven Inc., Wawa Inc. and Sheetz Inc. -- to name a few -- have been transforming their stores to offer healthier alternatives to the standard convenience channel fare.

"This makes sense since in urban areas, drugstores effectively function as convenience stores, and they are seeing interest and growth in their fresh departments," the company wrote in its Hartbeat newsletter. "While we separate drugstores from convenience stores like everyone else, we should interpret the positive consumer reaction to these changes in the drugstore channel as evidence for consumer acceptance of convenience stores moving in the same direction (i.e. toward 'better for you' and higher-quality products)."

Like food choices, the demographics and appeal of convenience stores is also shifting, according to the Hartman Group. Historically, core c-store shoppers have been 18- to 24-year-old males. However, women now shop at convenience stores for immediate consumption occasions for nearly all the same reasons that men do. In fact, "multitasking/being distracted" is a bigger driver for women than for men (9 percent vs. 5 percent).

Notably, the firm's research found:

  • Women now visit convenience stores as much as men.
  • On average, women spend more time than men in c-stores.
  • Women are the largest consumers of coffee and fountain beverages.

Millennials are also becoming an important consumer for the convenience channel. According to the Hartman Group, one in every five household dollars is spent by or on a Millennial. The convenience store channel captures a significant share of their wallets.

Millennials' shopping behaviors make them an ideal target audience for convenience stores because:

  • They are more impulsive with spending than older generations.
  • They make more unplanned purchases.
  • They seek immediate gratification.
  • "In and out" shopping appeals to them.

Millennials use convenience stores even on occasions when they desire higher quality food experiences, the research firm noted.

"The convenience store is increasingly relevant given the demands of modern day living. As such, the channel appeals to a broader range of people, well beyond the traditional core, young male, convenience store shopper," the company wrote in its newsletter.

Specifically, convenience stores offer a way to multitask. An improved and expanded selection of foods, fresh items and household goods allows shoppers to pick up pantry staples while getting gas. Also, c-stores are an oasis for last-minute shoppers who need a few things, but can't be bothered navigating grocery store crowds and parking lots.

Convenience stores provide instant gratification and are great channels for impulse buys because:

  • Appealing displays and ready-to-grab items can easily entice the c-store shopper who may have intended only to buy a drink or pay for gas.
  • Stocking interesting and unique merchandise can attract consumers looking for a little entertainment or a mid-drive pick me up.

"These features appeal to people across many demographics. Tailoring c-store offerings to the preferences of women and Millennials allows the channel to evolve with these growing market segments," the company concluded.

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