C-Store Strategies for a Rough Fuel Forecast

Consider This 4-Part Plan to Keep Food Sales Strong

Original blog by Nemco Food Equipment HERE

In its recently released Forecast Study for 2022Convenience Store News highlighted an unnamed retailer’s hard-truth assessment about the industry: “We are getting close to $4 a gallon, which historically is when inside sales start to be affected.”

That comment was made when domestic policies and the world’s arduous supply-chain reset were the major influence on U.S. gas prices. Since then, due to the conflict in Ukraine, many gas pumps have already climbed past that tipping-point price. 

So far, most retailers aren’t ready to change their minds about the promise of 2022 (in that same report, 2/3 projected their total sales per store will grow), but their reliance on food sales clearly increases in the shadow of such unpredictable gas prices.

Here’s a 4-part plan, built on a convenience store’s inherent advantages, to keep food sales strong.

1. Make C-Store Food That Rivals Restaurant Food

On the one hand, eating healthier is consumers’ most highly ranked lifestyle change for 2022. (Fast Casualciting a Nextbite survey, Jan. 2022.)

On the other, those same consumers have a lower tolerance than ever for wait times. (QSRciting an Oracle survey, Dec. 2021.)

It’s an unforgiving demand that’s downright merciless under current labor and supply-chain conditions.

But if any operation is poised to find the sweet spot between healthy and haste, it’s foodservice’s original grab-n-go convenience stores. They’ve been changing consumer perceptions about quality for years now (especially among Millennials and Gen Z), while still holding the even longer top-of-mind position for food service speed.

The next-level merger happens when fresh-prepared foods, which can compete with fast-casual on quality, meet fine-tuned efficiencies that make it possible to win on price and accessibility.

We’re talking about everything from extending produce shelf life by cutting it fresh in-house, to using equipment that can stretch inventories by tightly controlling food portions, to evolving pickup solutions whereby you meet customers at the door—either yours or their car’s.

Speaking of healthy . . .

2. Make C-Store Snacks Healthier, Too

A recent Hudson Institute report commissioned by NACS further drives home the movement toward healthy, but with one intriguing detail.

In the past five years, the number of c-store shoppers who report they’re eating “more vegetables, fruits and lean proteins“ because “natural foods are an important way to maintain my health,” has doubled to 62%.

Among these shoppers, three-quarters are “interested in snacks that are nutritionally healthy.” (Hormel, a Fresh Take on C-Stores, April 2021.)

Sounds like another way c-stores can capitalize with innovations in fresh-prepared snacking.

Wedged fruit packs, anyone?

3. Make Food Customization a Unique C-Store Quality

Also top of mind for self-serve, c-stores are uniquely poised to satisfy another big consumer demand. And, considering Datassential’s view, it’s a real point of leverage in the face of $4+ gas prices that can otherwise put a drag on in-store sales.  

“66% of c-store consumers say customization motivates them to visit a c-store over a competing foodservice location.”

Further, tying directly to food strategy part 1 above, “One reason for this is because customization often indicates that a foodservice item is fresher and, at least, partially made from scratch or made to order. And 64% of consumers say knowing that food is made to order motivates them to visit a c-store over an alternative option for prepared food.” (CStore Decisions, June 2021.)

Personalization is powerful.

Where operators can really compete here is with a dynamic self-serve that takes this power to another level by offering more condiment, sauce and other food-topping options, including more unusual flavor varieties.

4. Make Buying C-Store Food as Easy and Rewarding as Possible

When gas-price pressure is hobbling on-site foot traffic, efforts to incentivize visits have to shift into overdrive. Loyalty programs, for the way they target existing customers, are a much more cost-efficient solution versus broadcast promotions.

More specifically, this is about investing in the customer-experience side of your business in two ways.

First, make ordering easier by exploring more omnichannel options, meeting consumers where they want to be—and, frankly, where you can more easily engage them—which is in the digital space via your website or, even better, a mobile app.

Then, within that space, explore more ways to sweeten your loyalty rewards, again, by ratcheting up personalization. This can involve offers based on previous buying behaviors and tools that make redemption easier, such as notifying them when they’ve reached reward status, rather than asking them to, say, keep track of their own points.

A great CStore Decisions article explores these loyalty program innovations in more detail.