Turning Obstacles in C-store Foodservice Into Opportunities


The 2019 Convenience Store News Foodservice Study accurately depicted the opportunities and obstacles that face a generally confident c-store industry as it moves into the third decade of the century. The question now becomes: How do we capitalize on the opportunities and overcome the obstacles?

In this column, I will focus specifically on three areas:

  1. Two-thirds of c-store chains (66 percent) consider large quick-serve restaurants (QSRs) to be key competitors. How can you compete with and learn from them?
  2. An important concern among c-store operators is “getting the right product/programs.” How do you go about doing that?
  3. The study declares that “dinner daypart sales still don’t measure up.” How do you solve that?

C-stores vs. QSRs: The Battle Escalates

C-stores are doing better in their competition with QSRs than they probably think.

Large c-stores compete well with large QSRs when it comes to product/menu. At a minimum, their food and beverage items are at parity and, in some cases, above QSRs such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell and KFC. Large c-stores also do a better job on pricing/value, speed of service and convenience. 

Where large c-stores fall below large QSRs on-premise is in helping customers navigate the path to purchase, understand the menu options, and quickly and easily make informed decisions. Plus, the on-premise convenience store environment and customer dining experience trails that of QSRs. Off-premise, large c-stores compete well on traditional takeout orders, but lag far behind on drive-thru and delivery.

How Large C-store Chains Compare to Large QSR Chains

Criteria C-store Rating
Product/Menu Parity
Pricing/Value Above
Speed of Service Above
Convenience Above
P2P Communication Below
Menu/Menuboard Communications Below
Store Environment/Customer Experience Below
Takeout (Traditional) Parity
Mobile App & Pay Below/Parity
Drive-Thru Below
Delivery Below

Given that, where does the competitive c-store operator start? I believe that the in-store customer experience is critical for several reasons — cost being one of them. You can make significant revenue and profit gains by improving the path to purchase, menu and menu communications because those actions cost less than capital investments in off-premise initiatives.

Analytics Come to the Menu

“Getting the right product/programs” was cited by almost a third of all c-stores in the CSNews study (29 percent) as among their most important concerns. To address this, TURF analysis is a good starting point. TURF, an acronym for Total Unduplicated Reach & Frequency, is a mathematical procedure for optimizing sets of choices.

In simple terms, TURF provides two types of information: the shortest list of menu items needed to satisfy the vast majority of customers, and the average number of items each customer would find on the list that they might like to order.

For example, we had a client with 37 core items on the menu. A TURF analysis showed that number could be reduced to 25 menu items (a 33-percent reduction) and still give 91 percent of guests a first or second choice.

Menu optimization research built around TURF can deliver multiple benefits, such as:

  • Identify revenue-driver menu items;
  • Determine items that promote customer loyalty;
  • Make it easier for customers to order; and
  • Reduce service time.

Dinner Dilemma

The CSNews study noted that “dinner daypart sales still don’t measure up,” although there is guarded optimism about 2020. I believe one of the problems is that c-stores are looking in the wrong direction when trying to figure out who the competition is at dinnertime.

The study says only 17 percent of large c-stores view grocers as competition — a figure about one-quarter that of QSRs. Yet, QSRs have never been major players in the dinner hour.

C-store owners should visit and learn from supermarkets, such as Whole Foods and Wegmans, who continue to ramp up the scope and quality of their prepared food offerings.

Armed with this newfound knowledge, c-store owners can make more informed decisions about a whole host of dinner-related issues, including menu development and pricing. Coupled with optimized menu communications, they could be on their way to ending the dinner daypart dilemma.

Tom Cook is a principal of King-Casey, a restaurant consulting firm that has helped leading convenience stores and QSRs develop their brands and maximize revenues and profits.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.

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