CStore Decisions March 2021 Digital Edition is sponsored by Fully Loaded™.
CStore Decisions analyzes data and emerging trends shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic across 38 categories — and how c-stores are preparing for the year ahead.
At this time last year, c-store retailers were predicting a healthy economic landscape and sharing strong sales predictions across categories for the year ahead, while outlining strategies and plans to grow each segment. But whatever plans they had in mind were quickly replaced weeks later, as the COVID-19 pandemic arrived on the scene in the U.S. in early March.
Almost overnight, c-store retailers rushed to change course and embrace new priorities. Many retailers looked to contactless payment options and introduced curbside pickup. Most worked to install plexiglass shields and social distancing decals in-store, hand out masks and gloves and institute more intense sanitation practices to keep customers and employees safe. Depending on location, many retailers had to close down roller grills and other self-serve areas such as coffee and fountain or bring them behind the counter. Those that had the ability moved menus online and introduced order-ahead and delivery in record time. Digital disruption leapt forward, accelerating by nearly a decade in a matter of months.
In the early days of the pandemic, c-stores reported mixed results, which varied by region. Some saw sales lifts as customers stocked up on snacks, candy, alcoholic beverages and tobacco ahead of lockdowns. It was a year that required retailers to be as nimble as possible in order to sway with each market shift. Many savvy retailers completely reworked their product selections to include large packages of take-home items, including 18-packs of hard seltzer and bulk bags of meat snacks, as well as new segments from pre-mixed cocktails to hand sanitizers, masks and toilet paper.
Of those that struggled through a challenging spring, most were reporting a stabilization of sales by summer. But then fall came, and more lockdowns arrived. Overall, foodservice segments faced a challenging year. Those who already had or were able to roll out order-ahead and delivery quickly reported weathering the storm better than their less-tech-forward counterparts. Retailers who continued to invest in their food offering are expected to see a big rebound in food sales for the coming year.