NATIONAL REPORT — It was the perfect storm. The pandemic hit, unemployment went up, traveling to work went down, gas purchases went down, in-store foot traffic went down, online shopping for household goods went up — all seriously injuring impulse shopping in convenience stores, and particularly affecting the candy and snacks categories.
Convenience store retailers and suppliers are now devising how to revive the snacks business. Industry experts say the first step will be recognizing the new patterns in store traffic and adjusting merchandise and marketing accordingly.
Convenience stores were generally focused on being part of “the old consumer journey,” like the morning commute or the local office lunch break, said Ethan Chernofsky, vice president of marketing at Placer.ai, which tracks retail foot traffic.
The pandemic proved to many career professionals that greater levels of flexibility in terms of when they go to the office could improve their quality of life without hurting their productivity, Chernofsky observed. He believes this will lead to levels of weekday shopping staying higher than pre-pandemic.
“The key in the coming months for the c-store sector will come in finding new ways to make themselves a core part of the new consumer routine and to emphasize their value; something of critical importance during a period of extended economic uncertainty,” he advised.
As more consumers reenter the world — and convenience stores — they will likely be driven by the pandemic to focus more heavily on a better-for-you diet and lifestyle, with more planned eating than ever before, category experts predict.
Across all channels, including online, the pandemic brought about heightened interest in comfort foods and shelf-stable items, such as chips, pretzels and snack nuts, according to Mike Stern, senior vice president of Irvine, Calif.-based Advantage Solutions, which works with retailers to drive growth, profitability and loyalty.
“The evolution in snacking may continue with these trends in the short term, but ultimately we believe consumers will return to a wider variety of snack options, particularly healthy snacks,” Stern said. “Post-recession will see a rise in premium, innovative items.”
Among what’s trending now in snacks is enhanced packaging that clearly communicates a product’s better-for-you attributes. Key callouts include non-GMO, organic, GF (gluten free) and protein content; these are resonating well with consumers in these times.
The category experts offered up the following tips for invigorating impulse spending:
Offer a variety of value snack items that appeal to cash-strapped consumers during these difficult economic times;
Get some snacks off the shelf and onto a standalone display to engage customers and drive trial;
In-aisle, think about color and packaging placements that will excite;
Remember that pairings and buy-one-get-one offers consistently drive purchases;
Use cross-merchandising of impulse snacks coupled with bundle-and-save programs to drive value and nudge customers to purchase;
Invest in digital platforms, such as retailer-specific mobile apps and contactless purchasing solutions, that provide customers new ways to purchase even small items like single snacks; and