NATIONAL REPORT – Foodservice has long been touted as the greatest growth opportunity for the convenience store industry as the stigma of ‘gas station food’ diminishes and consumers show increasing interest in going to a location. convenience store for a bite to eat. That hasn’t changed more than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic, but the category’s journey has gone from smooth sailing to a bumpy road.
Food prepared in convenience stores is still on the menu of many shoppers, but not as much as it was a year ago, according to the findings of the 2021 Convenience Store News Realities of the Aisle Study, an annual benchmarking study of buyers of American convenience stores.
Just over half of convenience store shoppers are still used to buying prepared foods from convenience stores – 52% say they have done so in the past month. However, this is a huge 28 point drop from the 80% of convenience store buyers who said the same thing in 2020.
As a result, the average number of convenience store purchases of prepared foods in the past month fell from 5.0 times to 2.7 times, a decrease of 2.3 purchases.
This decline in prepared food purchases is not uniform across all demographic groups. More than two-thirds of millennials (67%) say they bought food in the past month, ahead of Gen X (53%) and Gen Z (47%). Millennials also make a higher number of monthly purchases on average (4.7), as do men (3.0 purchases vs. 2.3 purchases by women).
Regionally, the Northeast – home to many of the fast food hitters – fares better than other parts of the country with 62% of purchases reported in the last month, compared to 52% of shoppers. in the Midwest, 51% in the West and 48 percent in the South.
Among shoppers who said they had not purchased prepared foods from a convenience store in the past month, the top three reasons cited were: they had not planned to purchase prepared foods when they went to the store; they prefer not to buy prepared meals in convenience stores; and they weren’t hungry when they were there. Each of these reasons was cited by 31 percent of buyers.
Additionally, 23 percent said the food was overpriced and 22 percent didn’t like the selection available. Year over year, these two responses jumped 8 percentage points and 5 points, respectively, which could indicate increased price sensitivity and greater selection among buyers as to where to go. shop for food outdoors during the pandemic.
Another red flag for fast food is a decline in satisfaction year over year: 64% of shoppers say they feel completely or very satisfied with their last convenience store purchase, down 7 points compared to 2020.
Gen Z (45%), in particular, feel less positive than Gen Y (66%), Gen X (67%) and Baby Boomers (63%). To close this gap, retailers should think about how they can better meet the needs and wants of this rising cohort.
The attributes that consumers believe are the most important when shopping for convenience store prepared foods are the quality of the food and its value for money. These attributes were cited by most buyers (43 percent and 41 percent, respectively), but were down slightly from last year when 45 percent cited both as important. Taste continues to be of constant importance, cited by 37% of buyers.
Despite the increased availability of contactless shopping options in the proximity channel, delivery, drive-thru, and curbside pick-up are not yet among the most important attributes when purchasing ready-made meals in convenience store.
When comparing their convenience store purchases to items purchased from other food outlets, more than half of customers consider casual food items (57 percent) and fast food items (52 percent). ) as being better. Sentiment about these channels declined, however, as the percentage saying casual food is better fell 4 points, while the percentage saying casual fast food is better fell 2 points from a year ago. .
More than half of convenience store shoppers consider prepared foods from fast food outlets and grocery / supermarket stores to be the same or worse than prepared foods from convenience stores.