Washington — I’m just running out to grab a snack.” If only I had a nickel for every time one of my teenagers has said that.
The evolution of retail and foodservice has brought about a new world of quick snack options to meet consumer needs that are blurring the traditional lines between retail stores and restaurants, and CPG and foodservice. Consumers aren’t thinking about channels when the snacking mood strikes and they make a special trip just for a snack, but Acosta Group has learned that convenience stores are their most common destination. Other channels consumers choose for quick snacks include fast-food restaurants, bakeries/coffee shops, and drug stores.
It’s critically important to understand consumers’ point of view when they’ve decided to make that snack run and convenience is well-positioned to compete and win this occasion.
Acosta Group conducted two shopper surveys in 2023 among its proprietary Shopper Community, with both snack and convenience store shoppers age 18+ across the U.S. The insights revealed emerging snacking preferences, behaviors, and opportunities to challenge common thinking and help create ideal snacking solutions in convenience.
Daypart & Meal Occasion
The most common snack or meal trips to convenience stores are in the afternoon, particularly between meals, with 56 percent of shoppers claiming to stop at a c-store for a snack or meal foods between lunch and dinner. That said, a third shared that they often replace an entire meal with a snack.
While shelf-stable packaged snacks top the list, both hot and cold store-prepped food and drinks are also key reasons for going to a convenience store, with most of these purchases being impulse-driven, between-meal snack trips.
But that’s not all — snacking needs strike at various times when consumers are bored or hungry. So, while c-store shoppers primarily pick up snacks mid-day, 43 percent are often snacking later in the evening. Missed opportunity? I say yes.
What Consumers Want
Whether specific to packaged goods or fresh-prepared items, shoppers require convenient and easy-to-consume food and beverage choices, as 78 percent of those stopping in c-stores for a snack or a meal are leaving the store and eating it on-the-go.
The competitive item set for these grab-n-go snack occasions is more blurred than ever before, particularly as stores enhance their foodservice offerings. Shoppers self-define “fast food” snack solutions to include convenience stores, coffee shops, quick-serve restaurants, and online delivery apps.
Interestingly, when asked to choose, consumers’ snacking preferences are split between better-for-you (49 percent) and indulgent foods (51 percent). And while more snackers prefer salty (59 percent) over sweet (41 percent), c-stores should offer a strong assortment of both.
Shoppers also say that they want c-stores to add new and unique specialty foods that might not fit the traditional “quick” trip, such as gourmet, artisanal, fresh or international snacks, candies, and beverages. These out-of-the-box items should be implemented and tested in a way that maximizes interest yet remains true to the channel’s competitive advantages of “convenience” and “fast trip.”
Emphasize The Value Message
The shopping experience at convenience stores is meeting most shoppers’ expectations and visits are on the rise, more than many other channels. However, consumer opinions on pricing and value in c-stores are somewhat split, with c-stores not as successful in meeting expectations for offering coupons, lowest prices, deals, value for the money and shopper loyalty rewards.
Promotions improve price-value perceptions, as 73 percent of shoppers are likely to purchase a familiar item if they see it on sale or deal at a c-store, even if they don’t need it. Signage in-store and at-pump is most effective at garnering shoppers’ attention.
Maintaining high-quality, fresh store-prepared foods is also a great way to enhance the value perception of c-stores and is the number one reason why 29 percent of shoppers increased their visits to c-stores in 2023.
Engage With Your Shoppers On All Channels
Most shoppers subscribe to c-store loyalty programs (71 percent) and apps (64 percent), making this is another effective and advantageous way to appeal to hungry or bored snackers, whether they are sitting on the couch on their phones or already out stopping for gas, food, or cigarettes. Subscriptions and apps can help make saving money convenient, fun, and engaging. After all, they choose convenience stores because they are, “fast, easy, quick, and fun.”
Bundling to Build Business
Snacks and drinks top the list of most purchased c-store items, surfacing potential opportunities for product pairing of packaged goods: most people are buying salty snacks (65 percent), refrigerated beverages (59 percent) and candy (57 percent) at convenience stores. There is also an opportunity to provide snack or meal combos, or bundles with store-made food, baked goods, and beverages that best compete with other “fast” foodservice solutions down the street, as half of c-store shoppers agree the quality of c-store prepared food is as good as products served at a fast food/quick-serve restaurant.
Take Note Of Opportunities
Circling back on an important point, while salty snacks are the most purchased snack at convenience stores, most salty snack purchases are occurring at other channels like grocery and mass. C-stores have an opportunity to augment their current number one share snack item of meat snacks and embrace the opportunity gaps, going after a greater share of salty snacks, candy, and baked goods purchases.
Shoppers list lower prices, better value, and sales/promotions as the top reasons they choose to buy these snacks elsewhere, resulting in c-store channel leakage. Providing improved value assortment and promotions are key to closing this gap.
While most shoppers are satisfied with the c-store experience, better-for-you snacks and meals are also an opportunity. And while c-store shoppers say they’re satisfied with a well-stocked variety of products, including shelf-stable snacks and store-prepped foods, some say they want more healthy items as well as specialty foods.
• Maximize your daypart solutions, focusing on where you can win the snacking occasion.
• Learn from other channels that are satisfying the snack occasion outside of your direct competition, yet still stay true to what you do best.
• Convenience shoppers are there for a quick stop, not to stay and browse— cater to their quick and easy grab-n-go snacking needs that are primarily for eating on the go and on their way somewhere.
• Go after your missed opportunities, whether that’s assortment, value, or healthiness.
Remember, when consumers “just want to snack,” their ideal solution will meet them on their terms, based on their mood, occasion, and need state. I truly believe that convenience is best set up for success as that ultimate snack haven.
Contributor Info: Kathy Risch is the senior vice-president of consumer insights & thought leadership at national sales and marketing services provider Acosta Group. She can be reached at [email protected].