Just as the smartphone has evolved far beyond that rotary-dial, landline phone on the kitchen wall, the 21st century convenience store is quickly and broadly redefining the shopping and dining experience. No longer positioned as the first choice for fuel pumps or a smorgasbord of salty snacks, the c-store has become a viable outlet for hot prepared meals and healthy meal options.
The C-store has evolved far beyond the microwaved burrito and that typical basket of bananas at the register. The move is especially attractive to female and millennial customers, especially in c-stores located near colleges and universities, hospitals and upscale downtown neighborhoods often categorized as “urban food deserts.”
This transition to healthy food is both brand friendly and supportive of consumer values, like fighting obesity and providing healthy options for children (who are often along for the ride). The industry has added satisfaction to its core convenience competency by building these better-for-you offers at most every highway interchange and city intersection.
What we’re seeing now are open air fresh cases prominently in front, which encourage healthy impulse purchases.
Driving toward legitimacy in the grocery business is not always easy.
These healthy initiatives also introduce distribution and food safety program challenges, especially with the sourcing, provisioning and presentation of perishables.
It’s one thing to stock packaged cookies, chips and candy as evergreen items due to preservatives. It’s another to offer an appealing rotation berries, avocados, raw veggies and other fruits that have limited ripeness and visual appeal.
How will c-stores keep up with all the staggered produce and perishable life cycles? How will they deal with daily deliveries when the norm is twice a week? How will they ensure freshness and safety, will raising the bar on drop-in convenience?
As reported in CSP Magazine, U-Gas, Vintner’s Distributors Inc., KwikTrip, Sheetz, enmarket and Twice Daily have all committed to selling and marketing more healthy options, such as produce, low-sodium snacks, whole grains and low-fat dairy.
Some convenience chains are partnering with grocers, who have the supply chain operational experience dealing with produce and perishable items. Vintner’s partnered with the same vendors who provide food to grocery retailers Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market.
Some c-stores in Philadelphia are getting produce through wholesale food supplier Jetro. One Pennsylvania c-store with an on-site farmers market on its property has made a deal to stock unsold inventory in its store, according to the convenience industry’s NACS organization.
Other convenience chains are investing in food monitoring technology, including food safety software and IoT food safety solutions.