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Successful Menu Offerings for the Snacking Daypart


Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, one customer’s snack could be another’s meal. The fact remains that American consumers are snacking more frequently for a variety of reasons, and convenience stores are well positioned to deliver lots of options to meet the needs of this growing population of grazers.

Without question, consumers are eating smaller meals/snacks more often. The snacking trend is burgeoning, and most of the Convenience Store News How To Crew experts believe it will continue as consumers’ lifestyles are more hectic and time-pressed than ever before, leading them to seek maximum flexibility and alternatives to fulfill their food needs.

“In the convenience store channel, the snacking occasion is now equivalent in importance in terms of sales, customer counts and profits to the breakfast daypart,” said Maurice Minno, principal of MPM Consulting Group and a member of the How To Crew.

Forty-nine percent of consumers are snacking at least twice a day, and they are likely to purchase those snacks instead of bring them from home, according to recent research from Technomic. In fact, 40 percent of Americans prefer to snack throughout the day than eat the traditional three meals. More than three-quarters of consumers surveyed by Technomic said they indulge in snack foods for lunch, while 55 percent said they reach for a snack in lieu of dinner.

Another study by Acosta Sales & Marketing titled “The Evolution of Eating” confirmed the importance of snacking to the c-store industry. The study found that more than half of consumers surveyed snack during the day, with 25 percent reporting they have a snack once each day and another 25 percent reporting they have two to three snacks each day.

“Typical consumer snacking purchases at c-stores occur throughout the day, with the majority of these purchases happening in the morning and during the afternoon,” said Minno. “The overwhelming majority of these snacks are bundled purchases that include a beverage, thus increasing the basket size and average spend per customer.”


In addition to busy lifestyles, weight management, the need for energy boosters during the day, growing demand for ethnic foods, and the desire for small indulgent treats (in some cases, the quest for more healthy options) are driving the growing snacking trend. But how can convenience stores do an even better job of capturing these snack occasions to boost sales and profits?

While some How To Crew experts recommend offering all menu items, such as breakfast and hot-case snacks, all day long, others contend this strategy might only work in select stores with a certain mix of customers and high foot traffic during snack times.

“Serving breakfast all day is an idea that comes and goes,” said one How To Crew retailer. “The reality is people rarely blur dayparts unless they work odd shifts. If you can blur the daypart line and deliver quality, that’s great. It has its place in select locations, but I don’t see it universally applied.”

Another How To Crew retailer, however, believes that “one person’s breakfast is another’s dinner, so we offer the full menu during all hours of operation.” He and most experts agree that adding smaller portion appetizer-type items, such as jalapeno bites, mozzarella sticks, chicken wings and/or chicken fingers, to the menu is one way to boost sales.

“We see all appetizer items selling through the day, so there is no special item for special times, but keep it small in portion size — 2 to 4 ounces — and keep it under $2 in price, if possible,” he added. “That is the key and they will buy one, two or more items at a time depending on their hunger and time of day.”

This retailer’s chain has identified three distinct snacking time slots: from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., and from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. “There are peaks and valleys within these time slots, but all are growing segments,” he explained.

For c-stores to capitalize on the growing importance of snacking, they should consider conducting a “path to purchase” analysis to understand how customers journey through their stores at different dayparts and over a full week,” which might reveal different patterns on some days vs. others. “This analysis work will position retailers for how best to re-merchandise their stores with planograms that encourage consumer-bundled snack purchases, said Minno, who favors providing a “core” all-day snack offering that includes an appropriate mix of ambient and refrigerated snack options, as well as specialty proprietary-branded hot snacks that are unique to the retailer.

As is true of all prepared foods, freshness and inventory replenishment make snack foods more appealing to customers. “Making the merchandising cases look inviting and fresh all the time is the key,” one How To Crew expert emphasized. “When it comes to hot snacks, focus on small-batch runs and a trained staff that can meet the need 24/7.”


Just as many consumers graze on foods in the appetizer sections of restaurant menus for their meals, the small-plate trend is gaining traction in c-stores, too.

“It’s important to remember that snacks can also function as a meal replacement,” said How To Crew member Mathew Mandeltort, corporate foodservice manager for distributor Eby-Brown Co. “In those instances, the snacks can be more substantial or paired with another component to make a small meal.” And keep in mind that customer need states vary throughout the day, so “simply offering everything you have all day long does not a snacking program make,” he added.

When it comes to the balance between hot and cold snack offerings, the general rule of thumb should be 70 percent hot and 30 percent cold, according to Mandeltort. “People tend to find hot food more appealing than cold food. Just ask anyone who has ever put out a buffet,” he said.

Clearly, an operator’s foodservice equipment and existing menu will dictate what type of snack program can be executed. To get operators thinking about some of the snacking opportunities during the day and the different menu options available, the CSNews How To Crew offered the following ideas:

For mid-morning snackers: Add highly flavorful, light items that have lower calories to appeal to those seeking more healthful alternatives or a little something to bridge them to lunch. Popcorn snack-size items, such as popcorn chicken, potato wedges, pizza bites, etc., could entice.

“Consider anything that customers can grab a quick cup or bag of that doesn’t feel like a full meal,” one retailer said. On the cold-chill side, fresh fruit, yogurt parfaits, small cheese plates/boxes and boiled eggs or egg salad could be added to grab-and-go merchandisers.

For mid-afternoon snackers: Consumers seem inclined to purchase more indulgent, higher-calorie treats in the afternoon, such as fresh-baked cookies or brownies, trail mixes and nuts to perhaps accompany that mid-afternoon cappuccino, smoothie or fountain beverage pick-me-up. Be sure to also have warm small-meal offerings for those who eat late lunches or are just tiding over to dinner. “Just be careful that the items are not real labor intensive and can stay fresh during a slower time of the day,” one retailer cautioned.

For late evening snackers: Flavor and spice rule this snacking segment because it’s typically a younger demographic, How To Crew experts agree. “The food has to be good, hot and fresh. Don’t think this customer will continue to return if you offer substandard items,” one expert said. Indulgent sweet snacks can also sell well, and don’t ignore cold snacks if you have lower-volume foot traffic at this time of day. Pizza, roller grill items and hot appetizers that can be cooked in small batches in a speed oven can work in certain stores, too.

“Since we do not have a strong dinner business, I have always found the late evening and overnight snacker the hardest to serve,” said one retailer. “You need items that can be prepared ahead of time and on display. I have always found that items like cookies, brownies, bakery pastries or cold snacks are good. However, hot food items have not done well for us during this timeframe.”

Every store is different, though, and so much depends on the surrounding community, events, nightlife and area businesses. How To Crew members are quick to remind operators that one size does not fit all.


For stores with customers that have a more upscale and sophisticated palate, Minno recommends studying what Starbucks has been doing with its all-day snack menu that includes a range of ambient snacks, chilled snacks and warm savory snacks. Starbucks’ Bistro Boxes — packed with a hardboiled peeled egg, red grapes, sliced apple wedges, cheese wedges and a few crackers — and its fresh and heated-to-order savory snacks branded under the La Boulange Bakery — which include three savory croissants Tomato & Cheese, Wheat Spinach and Ham & Cheese — are all doing well, he said.

Minno encourages c-store retailers to look both inside and outside the industry for inspiration. Other retailers to study include Target and Trader Joe’s, he noted.

Promotions and marketing is another important ingredient to rolling out a new snack program or new snack menu items. “One of the biggest mistakes operators make is putting food out there and assuming people will figure it out on their own,” Mandeltort said. “Let them know what you have and that it’s OK to have something for a snack, and that they’ll feel better if they have a snack. Think Snickers’ ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’ campaign.”

The How To Crew experts encourage operators to use all marketing platforms available, especially social media such as Facebook and Twitter, to communicate snack time to customers. Mandeltort pointed to BakerTweet ( as a new creative marketing example.

“BakerTweet is a way for busy bakers to tell the world that something hot and fresh has just come out of the oven,” the BakerTweet website states. “It’s as simple as turning the dial and hitting the button. All of the baker’s followers get a Twitter alert telling them that it’s bun time. Or bread time. Or whatever.” The first BakerTweet device was installed at the Albion Cafe on Boundary Street in Shoreditch, London.

Mandeltort mused: “Why can’t there be a C-Tweet?”

“In the convenience store channel, the snacking occasion is now equivalent in importance in terms of sales, customer counts and profits to the breakfast daypart.”
— Maurice Minno, MPM Consulting Group

“One of the biggest mistakes operators make is putting food out there and assuming people will figure it out on their own. Let them know what you have and that it’s OK to have something for a snack, and that they’ll feel better if they have a snack.”
— Mathew Mandeltort, Eby-Brown Co.

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