The Evolution of Convenience Stores

Convenience stores (c-stores) have existed for 95 years with the first c-store chain opening in 1927 in Dallas, Texas. Throughout history, the c-store industry has remained relevant through continuous innovation in response to consumers’ evolving needs. Two of the most prominent historical examples include rethinking the hours of operation framework and strategic fuel pricing decisions. 

In the 1950s, Americans started working late hours, and convenience stores responded by adopting the “24/7” model to meet consumer needs. The early 24-hour stores were often located near factories and hospitals, where shift work was becoming more common. Fast forward to the early 2000s, variation in fuel pricing did not appear to influence customers’ c-store preferences. However, within just three years (’09-’12), the indicated importance of fuel pricing rose significantly. As a result, c-stores began developing fuel pricing strategies and building marketing campaigns surrounding fuel, such as the implementation of fuel loyalty programs.

Today a similar opportunity for strategy development in c-store foodservice operations is coming to light. Emerging trends range from increased consumer demand for quick “to-go” food items and a prioritization of pickup and delivery options. For example, recent studies reveal that 56% of consumers purchase prepared meals at convenience stores at least once per month, and 62% of customers spend at least $6 per week on c-store foodservice. Hot and prepared food operations in c-stores are in a position to thrive, paired with convenient delivery and pickup options.

With more consumers shopping quickly and locally during the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside a heightened interest in prepared hot foods “to-go,” and a magnified awareness of health and safety protocols; it’s an opportune time for c-stores to position themselves for the future. While c-stores are uniquely positioned to adapt to changing consumer behavior, food safety technology like Squadle’s suite of products can help ensure your store is prepared with the best in class software to meet increasing demands.

Expansion into Hot & To-Go Food Offerings

Consumers have traditionally visited large grocery stores to stock up on weekly food, household products and more. However, many c-store operators recognize the benefits of expanding foodservice operations in order to increase revenue and expand their customer base. 

In 2020, GetGo (c-store chain) reevaluated their menu items and added the following alongside updated kiosks: bowls, burritos and its ‘GoBig Menu’ with larger portions. They also incorporated salads, wraps, and fried chicken. Additionally, Baltimore-based High’s also updated its menu to include a local favorite: Take & Bake Crab Cakes. Not only do these offerings help drive business, they also help to differentiate c-store businesses from competitors.

C-store chain Kwik Chek Inc. has also embraced foodservice in an attempt to stand out by adding two new quesadillas to their menu: chorizo egg and cheese, and Buffalo chicken mac and cheese. Kwik Chek’s Head of Menu Innovation identifies its unique menu items as something “you wouldn’t expect from your average convenience store”. 

Additionally, QuickTrip Corp. has innovated menu versatility by adding macaroni and cheese to their menu, featuring a variety of cheese options: cheddar, parmesan, American and monterey jack.

Innovation in c-store foodservice has provided customers with a larger selection of food options, made from fresher ingredients, with more opportunities to accommodate food preferences. As the emergence of electric cars and increased awareness of dangers surrounding tobacco use threaten c-stores’ primary revenue streams, further innovation to differentiate from competitors based on menu is likely to continue as c-stores increase reliance on foodservice to generate profit.

How C-Stores Can Maintain Brand Standards During Menu Expansion

With increasing numbers of consumers identifying brand preferences in the c-store industry, important steps must be taken to maintain brand trust and consistency during the  shopping experience. The longevity of newly implemented foodservice operations relies on meeting existing brand standards and alignment with brand values such as cleanliness, speed, and quality. 

In recent years, supply chain innovations in the perishable goods market have allowed c-stores to greatly expand food offerings to include fresher, healthier ingredients. One can now expect to find fresh produce and handmade meals, shifting the traditional mindset around c-store foodservice which previously focused on packaged snacks and candy. With the rise of additional food offerings, food safety protocols ensure consistency in the quality of hot and to-go food items. These include effective cleaning strategies, reliable off-hours food storage, and consistent food temperature monitoring. 

Investing in digital solutions for food safety monitoring can make daily operations highly efficient and cost effective. A digital approach to food safety increases the reliability and validity of task completion information, and provides manager oversight. Businesses operating in the foodservice industry are increasingly adopting digitized checklists to track task completion, and remote temperature monitoring in food storage areas. Offerings such as Squadle’s suite of products allow c-stores to maintain brand standards with continuously evolving food menus.

C-stores Incorporate Delivery & Pickup

QSR’s have led the way in adapting to changing consumer needs including increased mobile orders, expanded delivery services, and enhanced drive-throughs. C-stores are beginning to follow suit by adopting new delivery and pickup technology. 

Retailers like 7-Eleven have partnered with Instacart, DoorDash, Uber Eats and Grubhub in order to accommodate customers’ needs for on-demand delivery of everyday basics. Foxtrot is another example of a convenience store that offers delivery and pickup options for curated goods such as prepared meals, beer, wine, and personal care. Foxtrot was founded as a delivery-only business, but now plans to open 50 new retail locations with $100 million raised capital for brick and mortar expansion. Their urban convenience store setup offers food items by local artisans in addition to their core offerings of coffee, wine, and ready to eat cafe-styled meals. 

The Rise of C-Stores

As shopper habits have changed over time, c-stores have successfully evolved to offer a range of products that consistently align with changing definitions of convenience, value, and variety. Consumer shopping trends increasingly indicate that the introduction of differentiated foodservice items, delivery, and pickup mark the next frontier for c-stores. The integration of food safety monitoring technology into these operations will aid in establishing safe, efficient, and consistent foodservice operations.