York, Pa.-based Rutter’s, which has 69 c-stores in Pennsylvania, with nine more planned, including sites in West Virginia and Maryland, has been in the burrito business since its made-to-order foodservice offerings were instituted about a decade ago.
Rutter’s plans to expand on the stores’ current Hispanic food menu to take advantage of the growing demand for Hispanic foods.
“The category continues to grow, although there are pockets where these products are more popular,” said Ryan Krebs, Rutter’s director of food service. “There was a time when there wasn’t a strong demand for these items in our market, but Hispanic foods have become a relevant category.”
As a percentage of the total U.S. population, Hispanic and Latino demographics have risen from 6% in the 1980 to about 17% today. Domestic adaptations of Mexican cuisine, such as Tex-Mex, have grown in popularity, supported by major chains such as Taco Bell that have a significant national presence. Overall, the industry was estimated to grow 3% per year on average, reaching $38.4 billion in 2016, according to IBISWorld.
“Hispanics have traditionally been a very important customer segment for c-stores,” said Mark Halliwell, regional advisory market sector leaders, consumer products and retail at London-based EY Consulting. “Studies show many Hispanics shop for daily needs, including snack and hot prepared food options in this format over others.”
Broadening the Appeal
What has been beneficial to the burrito/Hispanic food category are new products geared specifically for convenience stores.
This gives the c-stores a chance to add such offerings.
“Empanadas are pretty successful nationally, and I’m still working on finding the best one for our stores,” said Krebs. “These are portable, go on hot-holds and can be either fried or baked in the oven.”
Rutter’s stores are expanding Hispanic food offerings to include, not just American versions of Mexican food like tacos and nachos, but also authentic fresh salsa and rice and beans.
“This will help support other components we already have in the burrito category,” said Krebs. “We are moving into the rice and beans category, which is high volume and relevant, as well as fresh salsa, which will be a value add.”
He predicts the future will see the availability of more c-store friendly products, such as tamales, pre-made fajita fillings and chipotle flavors.
“As c-stores seek to broaden their appeal to their customer base, offering convenient and convenience products and services, and with the Hispanic population continuing to grow rapidly in the U.S., I would expect the Hispanic segment to continue to be a strong performer and sales of Hispanic food items to also remain strong,” said Halliwell.