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The Healthy Food Conundrum

Savvy c-store operators should look at incorporating healthier items into their foodservice offerings

Within the foodservice industry, there has been an ongoing battle over the issue of health and wellness. Consumers often indicate they seek “healthier” items, such as those low in sodium, fat, calories or sugar. Yet when operators offer these items, consumers tend to shun them for more indulgent, often tastier goods instead.

For the convenience store food-service operator, it is important to understand the “healthy” positioning that the c-store segment occupies relative to many of the other foodservice segments. This entails depicting, by segment, how important consumers consider healthy options vs. the likelihood they would actually purchase these items.

While this exercise is very cursory and based upon empirical evidence alone, it clearly demonstrates that c-store consumers place less importance on health and wellness than consumers in nearly all other foodservice segments.

In our latest consumer poll, c-store consumers indicated the top three reasons they visit a c-store for foodservice are its convenient location, cleanliness and the fact that it happens to be where gas is purchased (so they are already there). On the other hand, only 7 percent purchase food at a c-store because of the more healthful options offered (making it approximately the 28th important factor out of 30 listed, behind only ordering from a kiosk and drive-thru options).

An operator, therefore, has a dilemma to face: To offer or not to offer healthful options?

The answer, in our opinion, is clearly the former. Here are a few ideas that c-store operators can incorporate into their menu development and marketing processes to help bring consumers into the healthy-ordering fold.


When consumers are asked to define “healthy,” the responses given are as wide and far-ranging as the sample itself. Words such as “fresh,” “made-for-me,” “display cooking,” “no sodium,” “small portion sizes” and “no trans fats” are a few of the most common responses. The point is, consumers are largely unsure of how to define healthy, so it is up to the c-store operator to define it for his or her customer base.


Perhaps the biggest obstacle to offering healthful foods is that consumers equate the concept to “does not taste as good.” Consumers, who have been hoodwinked into buying low-fat ice cream, only to find it tastes like low-grade margarine, have only fueled this perception. C-store operators, therefore, should carefully determine which items best fit the “healthy” perception. Offering low-sodium taquitos, for example, will probably go a lot farther than offering a sugar-free frozen cappuccino.


It has been shown that heavy-to-moderate users of c-store foodservice tend to prefer the “snackier” items offered in a c-store and therefore, do not consider it much of a venue for sourcing healthy fare. However, as McDonald's debut of salads a few years ago showed, offering soccer moms an item they could purchase while the kids could order their cheeseburgers and fries paid off handsomely in the end. Offering healthier fare, such as fresh fruit, salads and rice bowls, may attract a broader consumer base, particularly female consumers.

As retailers are well aware, what consumers say and do are two completely different things. However, offering healthful items must be a part of any c-store operator's long-term menu plan.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.

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