Foodservice is an increasingly important part of c-stores’ offer. While many food-focused c-stores emphasize made-to-order, hot prepared foodservice, the pandemic reinforced the need for a strong grab-and-go offer, too.
According to NACS State of the Industry (SOI) data, total industry inside sales increased 1.5% to a record $255.6 billion in 2020 — despite a 1.6% decline in the number of convenience stores, which totaled 150,274 stores at the start of 2021.
According to NACS data, while the broad category of foodservice took a hit in 2020, commissary — largely grab-and-go, prepackaged foods — generated sales growth during the second quarter of 2020, ending the year with a 13.3% category sales contribution.
Grab-and-go foodservice refers to food that has been prepared ahead of time and packaged, so consumers can simply grab the product and go. Sandwiches are quintessential grab-and-foods, but a multitude of foodservice offers are grab-and-go friendly — with the right packaging, of course.
Grab-and-go foodservice is peak convenience, and it was especially important during the pandemic, as consumer aimed for quick shopping trips.
The downside to grab-and-go foodservice is that some consumers still perceive these foods to be less fresh and lower quality than made-to-order offers.
Made-to-order refers to foods that are prepared only after the customer’s order is placed. While it’s significantly more common than it was 10-plus years ago, a made-to-order menu is still a strong differentiator in the c-store industry.
The advantage of a made-to-order menu is the foods will be perceived as the freshest and highest quality option by many consumers. Made-to-order foods are also customizable, which is increasingly important to consumers, who may have a wide range of preferences, dietary restrictions or food allergies.
The downside is that made-to-order foods, of course, take extra time and resources to prepare, and convenience customers are typically in a time crunch. Offering an order-ahead option — online or, better yet, in-app — will help to keep these customers moving.