CHICAGO – With convenience stores adding more prepared food, the comparison to restaurants is inevitable. Foodservice at c-stores now accounts for 15.18% of annual sales, with beverages garnering 14.65%. Those numbers are only predicted to go up, which means the competition between restaurants and convenience stores will increase, too, Nation’s Restaurant News reports. During a workshop at the National Restaurant Association Show, which ended yesterday in Chicago, industry experts gathered to discuss what restaurants and c-stores could learn from each other. “We are the place you go to refuel, refresh and reward yourself,” said Dr. Nancy Caldarola, education director at the NACS Center for Achieving Foodservice Excellence (NACS CAFÉ). Convenience stores offer prepared food as one more way of meeting customer needs through convenience.
One lesson convenience stores are learning is how to neutralize the “gasoline penalty,” said Joseph Bona, president of branded environments at CBX. “You can have the best turkey sub in the world, but if I can’t get people to understand that we’re a legitimate destination for that, I can’t get them in the front door,” he said.
Restaurant innovations have pushed convenience stores to expand their offerings and include fresher ingredients, said Caldarola. Having a clean, welcoming store with food ready fast is also important, said Bona. “Consumers eat with their eyes,” he said. “They buy with their eyes.”
Most convenience stores have recognized that having prepared food is a huge advantage, said Bill Reilly, senior vice president of marketing GPM Investments. “Female shoppers are a big [on their] wish list as far as reaching new customers,” he said.
Technology, such as electronic ordering stations, gives convenience stores an advantage over restaurants while controlling labor expenses. “Who am I to tell you how to make your turkey sandwich?” said Reilly. “We gave the power to the consumer.”