What Does 'Innovation' Mean to C-store Customers?


NATIONAL REPORT — Innovation is a key competitive battleground in the food and beverage categories in convenience stores. Consumers expect innovation throughout the store, but this quest for newness is especially keen in the cold vault and foodservice categories, according to consumers interviewed while judging the 2016 Convenience Store News Best New Products Awards program.

Variety and excitement, whether it’s a new iced tea flavor blend or a new wrap and salad combo, is the order of the day. From gluten-free lunch options in foodservice, high-protein options, frozen beverage selections, and vegan wraps, companies have been working overtime with constant new products and product extensions in the pipeline.

I was touring some convenience stores over the past four weeks, conducting focus groups as well as using some guerrilla tactics to find out how people feel about innovation. Today’s consumers define product innovation in different ways, depending on their age, gender and region of the country.

For example, I asked Diane, a 31-year-old, single woman from Westerville, Ohio, to pick out a food or beverage in a c-store that she felt was innovative. She chose a Rubicon No-Sugar-Added Exotic Juice can in mango. “I am always looking for juices without added sugar,” she said.

Meanwhile, James, a 26-year-old from Exton, Pa., showed us his order of a mac-and-cheesesteak sandwich with extra jalapenos. He loved the mash-up of two of his favorite foods.

Beyond food and beverages, consumers are cognizant of other innovations that improve the ease and speed of service at c-stores. Things that were mentioned more than once included:

  • Guest Wi-Fi services;
  • Touchscreen monitors for food ordering;
  • Digital signage with targeted promotions;
  • Self-serve checkout; and
  • Local community-targeted promotions and charity events publicized through social media.

Joey, a 37-year-old from Syosset, N.Y., brought up the free things, like special lunch deals, he got through the c-store’s Facebook page as a smart innovation.

Here is a sampling of some additional consumer comments about innovation in c-stores:

“Iced pumpkin spice doughnuts are the bomb.”
Fred, age 52, divorced male, Chicago

“The pizza deal keeps me coming back.”
Jose, age 25, married male, Atlanta

“I’m always goin’ for the hottest, spicy chips.”
Jack, age 29, single male, Orlando, Fla.

“Coffee variety — never seen so many different varieties in a c-store before.”
Jeanne, age 33, single woman, Woodstock, Va.

“We’re always looking for new snack bars.”
Sonya, age 24, single woman, New Brunswick, N.J.

“The water flavors are my favorite, especially the fizzy raspberry lemonade.”
Jewel, age 31, divorced woman, Richmond, Va.

For more on the role innovation is playing across all facets of the convenience store industry, check out the November issue of Convenience Store News. 

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