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Seven Steps for C-store Success in This New Era of Snacking

MINNEAPOLIS — Consumers' snack habits continue to evolve, which means convenience stores must stay on top of the latest trends to make sure they're meeting expectations and maximizing their own success.

After analyzing the latest snacking data and convenience consumer behavior, the General Mills Convenience & Foodservice consumer insights team uncovered the top seven trends and opportunities for convenience stores in 2016 and beyond.

"This is such a dynamic time in c-stores right now as snacking and all-day eating become more prevalent and consumers seek out more from their snacks — from unique and unexpected flavors to customization to healthful benefits," stated Kelly Kees, consumer insights researcher at General Mills Convenience & Foodservice. "This new era of snacking presents a major growth opportunity for c-store retailers that offer the right snack options to meet the changing needs of today's consumers."

These seven actionable steps will help retailers leverage the new era of snacking:

1. MODERN MASH-UPS — Snack foods and flavor profiles are mashing together as today's c-store shoppers, especially millennials, are open to multicultural influence and looking to mix and match flavors in cuisine while being grounded in familiar favorites. C-stores can bring excitement to snack categories through unique flavor and form combinations or snacks that turn up the heat on spice. They can also expand foodservice with multicultural offerings, like samosas, egg rolls and quesadillas, or add a twist to current foodservice items by adding exciting flavors such as wasabi or sriracha.

2. BACK TO BASICS — Health-conscious shoppers are turning to healthier foods, many of which contain naturally occurring fats. High natural fat and protein are linked with satiety. Retailers should ensure their snack assortment includes products with inherent protein that are high in natural fats. This includes nuts, seeds and jerky.

3. MAKE IT MINE — Shoppers can add their personal touch to food through customizable specialty beverages and made-to-order food. Millennials particularly like to put their stamp on their own creation, and are willing to pay for it. Condiment or topping bars in foodservice areas like roller grills and specialty hot beverages are good options. Customization also cues freshness because the food and beverages are made in real time and "just for me."

4. FRESH = REAL FOOD — Temperature-controlled food, shorter date codes and words like "raw" and "simple" serve as freshness cues. This appeals to consumers looking for less-processed food. Retailers should consider expanding their refrigerated/fresh options and locating them near store entrances to alert shoppers to freshness. They can also offer more grab-and-go snacks, such as cheese, eggs and fruit.

5. TRANSPARENCY — Today's shoppers are more concerned about what is in the food they eat. See-through packaging and clear ingredient decks with words they can pronounce can provide the label transparency they want. Offering a variety of products with simple ingredients and clear packaging lowers the risk for shoppers.

6. SHRINKAGE — Small, portion-controlled snacks allow shoppers to indulge themselves free of guilt. Mini treats satisfy cravings, are portable and snackable, and do not sabotage health goals. Smaller portions or resealable packaging can encourage even the most health-conscious shoppers to indulge, and smaller treats allow for easier sharing and snacking on the go.

7. MEALTIME BLUR — Specific mealtimes are a thing of the past. Snacks can be meals and meals can be snacks. Hectic, on-the-go lifestyles result in more freedom about what and when we eat. Shoppers are increasingly accepting of smaller, more casual meals, with half of adults replacing meals with snack foods three to four times per week. Retailers should be mindful of shoppers who may eat cereal at dinnertime or a hot dog as a snack. They can also offer products or solutions that are flexible as a meal or snack option, such as hummus paired with pretzels, and yogurt parfaits. Additionally, merchandising similar snacks together can encourage bundling snacks as a meal solution.

Minneapolis-based General Mills Convenience & Foodservice serves the convenience, foodservice and bakery industries. 

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