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Who Buys Prepared Food At C-stores?


Study shows foodservice consumers are young males, middle income and located in northern climates

Convenience stores still have a ways to go in attracting more female customers for their prepared food offerings. Purchasers of foodservice at convenience stores tend to be young males, located in the Northeast and Midwest, earning between $35,000 and $49,000 per year. Although, an almost equally high percentage of consumers making between $75,000 and $99,000 per year also purchase prepared food at c-stores, according to the 2011 Convenience Store News Realities of the Aisle study (for a topline summary of the research, see CSNews, March 21, 2011).

Thirty percent of male respondents said they purchased prepared food at a c-store at least once in the past 30 days, compared with only 19 percent of female respondents, the study revealed. The largest concentration of foodservice purchases were in the 25- to 34-year-old age category (36 percent) followed by consumers in the 35- to 44-year old group (31 percent).

By region, the purchase of prepared food at c-stores was pretty evenly divided across the country, but was most prevalent in the Northeast (29 percent of consumers purchasing) and Midwest (27 percent). Likewise, income distribution of foodservice purchasers at c-stores was fairly evenly divided, with the highest percentages in two categories: those making between $35,000 and $49,000 a year (30 percent) and those in the $75,000 to $99,000 income group (29 percent). The lowest percentage of foodservice purchasers at c-stores were in the poorest and richest income categories: the less than $35,000 group (20 percent) and the $100,000 or more group (25 percent).

Overall, consumers purchased prepared food at c-stores a mean average of 4.75 times per month. Twenty-nine percent of consumers said they purchased prepared food twice a month while 20 percent said they bought prepared food once a month. Nearly 30 percent, though, purchased foodservice five times or more during the month prior to the survey. The greatest concentration of heavy purchasers (five times or more) was in the 25-to-34 age category.

This year's study showed once again that foodservice generates high rings at the register for convenience store operators. Nearly 51 percent of consumers said they spent between $5 and $19.99 on foodservice at c-stores in the past month. Only 13 percent spent less than $5, and 36 percent said they spent $20 or more. The mean average spent over a month was $21.38.

Men spent more than women on prepared food at c-stores — ringing up a mean average of $23.74 over the past 30 days compared with $17.32 for women. However, the sweet spot for women shoppers appears to be the $5 to $19.99 range, with 61.2 percent of women spending in that dollar range compared with only 44.6 percent of men spending that amount.

The lunch daypart drew the most consumers for c-stores. Nearly a quarter of respondents said they purchased prepared food at c-stores during the 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. time slot. Almost 20 percent purchased during the afterschool/dinner hours of 4 to 7 p.m., while 16.5 percent said they ordered foodservice at a c-store between 6 and 9 a.m.

Significant percentages also purchased in the after-lunch snack hours of 1 to 4 p.m. (14.7 percent) and early evening hours of 7 to 10 p.m. (11.3 percent).

Interestingly, women outnumbered men as foodservice purchasers in all three of the major dayparts of breakfast (17.3 percent vs. 16.1 percent), lunch (24.5 percent vs. 23.8 percent), and dinner (23.5 percent vs. 17.3 percent), while men outnumbered women in all other timeslots, especially the evening hours when women have been known to avoid convenience stores for safety reasons.

There appears to be a huge opportunity to increase business among female shoppers by improving how safe women perceive the stores to be at night.

When it comes to the type of food purchased, the top four items are: hot dogs (33.5 percent), deli/ sandwiches (29.7 percent), breakfast foods such as fresh muffins, biscuits, bagels, etc. (28.2 percent) and pizza (22.9 percent).

However, if c-stores hope to attract more female shoppers, they might want to increase their offerings of items that women purchase with greater frequency than male shoppers, such as chicken (15.3 percent of women vs. 14.9 percent of men), fresh baked goods (15.3 percent vs. 12.5 percent), hot entrees (12.2 percent vs. 8.3 percent), ice cream/frozen yogurt (12.2 percent vs. 7.1 percent) and salads (12.2 percent vs. 6.5 percent).

Whether they are male or female, about half of all consumers eat their c-store foodservice purchases in their cars. Almost four out of 10 (38.7 percent) said they took their foodservice purchase home to consume, while about a quarter (24.1 percent) dined at work.

More women than men took their food home with them to eat (46.9 percent vs. 33.9 percent). More men, though, ate their food at work — 25 percent compared with 22.4 percent of women. A lot more men than women consumed their prepared food right in the convenience store — 17.9 percent, compared with only 4.1 percent of women who dined in the c-store.

Consumers were also asked to list the most important attributes they consider when purchasing prepared food at a c-store. The top three attributes were price/ value, food quality and taste — all cited by more than half of the respondents. Women rated several attributes much high than men did. For example, 74.5 percent of women named price/value as the most important attribute, compared with only 62.5 percent of men.

Other attributes that were rated as important by larger numbers of women than men were: food quality, taste, freshness, sanitation, menu choices, speed of service and selection of brands available. The only attribute that men flocked to in greater numbers was, perhaps predictably, size of portions.

Quick-service restaurants continue to be the biggest competitor to c-stores for foodservice dollars. Asked where they would have gone if they had not purchased prepared food at a c-store, 57.5 percent of respondents named a fast-food restaurant. Only one in 10 said they would have dined at a casual-dining restaurant like Red Lobster.

Although consumers said the No. 1 reason why they did not purchase prepared food at a c-store was that they "didn't plan on buying prepared food when they went to the store," a significant number (22.5 percent) said the food "didn't look appetizing" or they "didn't like the selection" (17.8 percent). Just reducing these percentages in half would result in significant new foodservice customers for convenience stores.

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