The COVID-19 pandemic impacted U.S. convenience store chains differently across regions at various times as lockdowns rippled across the U.S. in the spring and summer of 2020.
As the pandemic has continued into 2021, out-of-stocks due to supply chain issues and a decline in impulse purchases has impacted the category for some retailers.
While lockdowns impacted traffic at many c-stores at the start of the pandemic, some c-stores saw customers stocking up during this time — especially on bulk bags of jerky.
Convenience stores overall reported reduced sales during the height of the pandemic period as fewer people were commuting or traveling, confirmed Jennifer Mapes-Christ and analyst Cara Rasch of The Freedonia Group, a division of MarketResearch.com. These outlets get a lot of their sales, particularly of snacks and beverages, from people who are on the move, they pointed out.
Still, the c-store industry finished out 2020 with robust sales for the meat snack segment despite the challenges of the pandemic.
Meat snacks dollar sales saw a 10.8% growth rate for the 52-week period ending Dec. 26, 2020, per market analyst Nielsen Total U.S. Convenience data, up over the category’s 2019 growth of 4.4%.
Meanwhile, market research firm IRI found that for calendar year 2020, ending Dec. 27, 2020, dried meat snacks sales at c-stores ticked up 5.3%, while unit sales remained virtually flat. Jerky dollar sales in c-stores were up 5.0%, despite unit sales dipping 3.3%.
As the pandemic went on into 2021, many retailers grappled with challenges such as keeping shelves well-stocked amid inventory shortages caused by supply chain issues and driving impulse sales during a period of decreased visits.
As The Shelby Report noted, “When it comes to meat snacks like beef jerky and protein snack packs, the implications are clear — consumers simply aren’t reaching for quick and on-the-go items as often as they did pre-COVID.”
IRI consultant Erkin Peksoz commented that the jerky and protein snacks categories “underperformed general food categories due to pandemic-related changes in consumer behavior.”
Still, meat snacks have been supported by interest in high-protein, low-carb eating plans. The Packaged Facts National Online Consumer Survey conducted in June 2021 found that 38% of respondents follow Keto diet plans at least sometimes; 36% follow Paleo diet plans at least sometimes, and 48% said they follow low-carb eating at least sometimes. That means there is still a large and growing number of people potentially open to having meat snacks on the go, Freedonia found.
“Our June 2021 survey revealed that 29% of consumers reported their patterns of eating snacks/treats increased in frequency compared to pre-COVID habits, and 27% of consumers reported that their eating frequency (number of meals/snacks per day) increased,” said Rasch.
The numbers concur. Meat snack dollar sales at c-stores totaled $1.83 billion for the 52 weeks ending Aug. 28, 2021, up 17.6% over the previous year, per Nielsen Total U.S. Convenience data. So despite ongoing challenges caused by the pandemic, the meat snack category has continued to grow.
The introduction of new products and flavors is driving the market, noted MarketWatch. Trendy flavors like jalapeño, teriyaki and habanero are peaking c-store shoppers’ curiosity and sparking impulse sales yet again.