By: Bridget Halpain | Category Manager / Mary Bentley | Purchasing Specialist

Interruptions from COVID-19 shrank c-store foodservice sales by 13%, according to Convenience Store News (Jan 6, 2021). Foodservice Equipment & Supplies Magazine also observed that sales for restaurants and bars was down by 19.5% in 2020 from 2019. With total shutdowns and the ensuing restrictions on in-house dining, at least 17% of restaurants closed during 2020 (National Restaurant Association, Dec 12, 2020). Despite the obstacles that foodservice faced in 2020, the gap created by fewer restaurant options leaves opportunity for c-stores to increase foodservice sales. C-store foodservice sales saw an increase year over year in foodservice items and hot dispensed beverages, reported in January 2021.  Spending per c-store transaction was higher during the last quarter of 2020. Technomic’s Industry Insights reported that 71 – 75% of customers are eager to return to buying dispensed beverages and roller grill items (1/18/21). What does this mean for c-store service in 2021?

Offer bigger, bolder flavors on the roller grill and ready-to-eat menus.

  • Spicy ethnic foods
  • Smoky and cheesy flavors
  • Sour cold dispensed flavors

Provide comfort foods that trended during the pandemic.

  • Sales continued to remain strong after the shutdown
  • Fills the gap left by restaurant closures

Expand shopping options with online ordering and delivery or curbside pickup.

  • Digital ordering and technology acceleration will continue
  • Online apps reward repeat consumers for patronage and emphasize food safety
  • C-store chains partnering with national delivery services to bring food items to consumers

Add drive-through windows as industry leaders continue to renovate stores.

  • Offer food that competes with fast food restaurants and local eateries
  • Easy access for consumers and can double as curbside pickup avenue

Emphasize the “fresh” image and idea of ready-to-eat items.

  • Non-GMO labeling, locally sourced food items are still a priority for about 54% of consumers
  • Contemporary consumers look for the image instead of the brand name when it comes to fresh

Balance quality and price.

  • Contemporary consumers will pay a premium for what they consider to be fresh food
  • Breakfast items can increase quality without significantly increasing price points

Cleanliness and sanitation.

  • Consumers want to see an emphasis on their safety in foodservice areas
  • Stores must comply with local statutes for COVID-19 reduction

Although 2020 could have been devastating to the c-store foodservice category, recent trends demonstrate that consumers are eager to return to their purchases. Widespread restaurant closings have helped boost c-store foodservice sales. The year 2021 stands to be a much better year for owners and operators who choose to see the gaps left by 2020 as opportunities instead of obstacles. Familiarity with the prospective trends will be the best way to navigate a year where consumer behavior may not return to the “normal” of pre-COVID-19 behaviors.