U.S. C-Store Sales Hit $277.9B In 2021; Performance At Pre-Pandemic Levels


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Chicago — Total in-store sales increased to a record $277.9 billion in 2021 in U.S. convenience stores, according to NACS State of the Industry data. The increase came despite a 1.5 percent decline in the number of stores, which totaled 148,026 stores at the start of 2022, the report reveals. Factoring in fuels sales of $427.8 billion, total c-store sales reached $705.7 billion in 2021.

The average in-store basket size increased 6.3 percent in 2021 to $7.59 and has grown 22.4 percent during the past two years, making up for a 6.9 percent decrease in in-store transactions since 2019, according to NACS.

C-stores sell approximately 80 percent of the motor fuels purchased in the U.S. and saw a return to the pumps as more consumers and commuters hit the road again in 2021, although below pre-pandemic levels in 2019. Total fuel gallons sold increased 4.4 percent in 2021 but are still 7.2 percent below the level they were in 2019.

“The sales and performance metrics show that our industry is resilient. Our rapid adjustments to product assortment and the embrace of last-mile solutions allowed our industry to hold its own over the past few years, but to grow, especially market basket, is simply remarkable. While there are numerous headwinds facing retail in 2022, I am very optimistic about our channel’s future,” says Charlie McIlvaine, chairman and CEO of Coen Markets Inc., and a member of the NACS Board of Directors.

In addition, foodservice, which includes prepared food, commissary, hot dispensed beverages, cold dispensed beverages and frozen dispensed beverages, saw sales grow 24.1 percent in 2021 and are 10.6 percent higher than 2019 levels. Overall, foodservice accounted for 22.5 percent of in-store sales in 2021 — significantly higher than the 16.8 percent reported a decade ago.

After declining 8.5 percent in 2020, sales of prepared food — the largest foodservice segment at 66.7 percent of foodservice sales dollars — surged 25.9 percent in 2021 and were 15.2 percent higher than in 2019. Meanwhile, hot dispensed beverages (coffee, tea, hot chocolate) have not recovered to pre-pandemic levels but continue to represent the second-largest segment of foodservice sales at (13.2 percent), followed by cold dispensed beverages (7.8 percent), commissary (6.6 percent) and frozen dispensed beverages (5.8 percent).

The c-store industry provided 2.38 million jobs across the U.S. in 2021. Average wages increased 10.5 percent for full-time and 12.3 percent for part-time employees to $13.14 per hour and $12.45 per hour, respectively. Overall, the industry paid or collected $159 billion in taxes, or 23 percent of all sales dollars at stores in 2021. On a per-store basis, taxes collected averaged $1.1 million.

While sales and other financial metrics related to performance were positive, the association found that there are concerns related to labor and expenses. Total turnover for retail has increased, and it also increased in the convenience channel; turnover in 2021 was 150 percent — the highest it has been since 2012, according to NACS State of the Industry Compensation Report of 2021 Data. The full-time employee turnover rate was 119 percent, and the part-time employee turnover rate was 182 percent.

Direct store operating expenses increased 14.3 percent in 2021 versus 2020, with the largest contributor being wages and benefits ($71.7 billion), which was up 10.7 percent compared to 2020 ($64.8 billion) and up 17.1 percent compared to 2019 ($60.9 billion).