By: Chuck Ulie

As pandemic lockdowns eased, retail foodservice vendors in 2021 are exhibiting optimism and solid planning for the near future. Read on to see the results of CSP’s State of Foodservice survey. In it, retailers explain how they are planning to meet the challenges of the coming months and years, as well as insights into trends in grocery foodservice and a peek at consumer trends.

Hopeful and Optimistic

How good were foodservice sales in c-stores in 2020? About as bad as foodservice sales were in 2020. More than 25% of retailers said sales were up significantly compared with 2019, while another 26% said sales were down significantly. The tiebreaker was decided in the “up slightly” or “down slightly” categories, where nearly 16% said up but 23% said down.

But after a year like no other, it’s easy to look ahead for relief, and retailers are looking hopeful in 2021. Nearly 39% said they expect foodservice sales to greatly increase compared with 2020, and only 2% expect any decrease at all. These percentages are about as hopeful as they were in last year’s survey, conducted just before the pandemic was declared.

Beverage Potential

Retailers are counting on some of their most popular beverage segments to bring growth to their foodservice offers, naming canned or bottled beverages, fountain soft drinks and specialty coffee drinks as the segments with the most growth potential.

Reaching the Consumer

From traditional avenues like self-serve coffee and dine-in seating to today’s loyalty programs and touchscreen kiosks, there are plenty of strategic options to boost foodservice. Self-service coffee narrowly leads the pack as a strategy that retailers are extremely likely to follow in the next year. Carryout is a close second, followed by social media/marketing efforts.

Catering is the least popular strategy, with 45% of retailers indicating it’s “extremely unlikely” they’ll turn to it in the next year.

Menu Mentions

There are other strategies in play as well, such as what to highlight on a menu and where to invest. When it comes to menu callouts retailers will feature to promote foodservice, “low-calorie/low-fat items” leads easily at nearly 50%.

Pandemic Pivots

Retailers reworked foodservice during the pandemic, tweaking their programs as customer behavior changed and the months wore on. Retailers, of whom more than three-quarters surveyed carried packaged foods, dispensed beverages, food made on-site and supplier-prepared food, altered programs in a variety of ways. Roller-grill offers suffered the most during the pandemic, while the most altered foodservice strategy, chosen by nearly 60% of surveyed retailers, was suspending in-store dining.


Even with the worst of the pandemic mostly behind us, retailers continue to see coronavirus limitations, including mask rules, store-capacity limitations and social distancing, among the most challenging issues they face. Still, minimum-wage issues top the list of retailers’ legislative concerns. Meanwhile, the labor pool, food costs and labor costs were rated among the most challenging business factors, while food safety and ingredient transparency appear to be mostly managed.

About the survey

Winsight’s 2021 State of C-Store Foodservice survey was conducted online from March 18 to April 15. Of the more than 100 responses from retailers, 86% have 50 or fewer locations, 2% have more than 500. Regarding foodservice, 89% offered packaged foods, 79% made food on-site, 77% carried supplier-prepared foods, and 16% had foods prepared in a chain-owned commissary.

Source: CSP