The convenience store industry is constantly evolving and adapting to consumer demand and trends. This is becoming even more important as c-stores are being viewed as an alternative to quick service restaurants and “coffee shops” more than ever before. With the rise of health consciousness, sustainability concerns, and emerging flavor trends, convenience stores are investing in new areas to stay competitive in the market.
These investments have proven effective, as the c-store industry, and the food segment in particular, have seen continued growth throughout the 2020s – which is expected to increase through 2028. According to Grandview Research, not only will the convenience store industry continue to grow (5.6% CAGR) through 2028, but the food service sector is projected to be the fastest growing in the industry at a 6.4% compound annual growth rate.
So, where is the industry investing?
Expanded Food Options
The overall trend causing the most movement in the industry, is the overall expansion of food options and availability. Convenience stores are expanding their food options to cater to a wider range of dietary preferences, restrictions, and needs.
Plant-based alternatives are becoming increasingly popular, and stores are incorporating more plant-based products into their selections. In addition, naturally occurring sweeteners are being used as a healthier alternative to artificial sweeteners.
Craveable Flavors from Fresh to Throwback
New flavor and spice trends are also being incorporated into convenience store food offerings. A variety of chili-pepper inspired foods are trending across the country, from snack foods, to prepared meals. Fresh, local products are in demand, as are nostalgic foods that bring us back to simpler times – and recipes – when reintroduced.
Improved Fried Chicken Sandwiches
Fried chicken sandwiches have become a popular food item in recent years, and convenience stores are investing in improving the quality of their offerings to compete with the wider market – including the big-name fast food chains. Stores are experimenting with different breading techniques, premium ingredients and toppings, and even improved buns – all with the aim of creating a more satisfying and flavorful sandwich.
New Varieties of “Enhanced” Food Products
Convenience stores are investing in a variety of “enhanced” food products – from products with added nutrients, probiotics, and electrolytes, to CBD, THC, and even psilocybin food items (in some places).
Supporting Health and Wellness
In addition to the enhanced food items listed above, c-stores are investing heavily in foods that support health and wellness.
Personalized and Balanced Nutrition
With a growing interest in whole body wellness and balanced nutrition, convenience stores are offering products that support their customers’ goals, including products that cater to specific age and gender groups. Personalized nutrition is also becoming more important, with a majority of consumers (55%) reporting that they would be willing to pay a premium for functional foods that support their nutrition goals.
Convenience stores are also offering a wider range of dietary supplements, including vitamins and minerals, protein additives, and other supplements that can help support a healthy lifestyle. Among the aging Baby Boomer cohort, supplements that support eye/vision and bone/joint health are trending up. Products aimed at better hydration and better mental clarity and performance are also on the rise.
Packaging and Production Trends
It’s not just the food products themselves that today’s consumers are scrutinizing. Consumers are more educated and aware than ever before, and they are willing to hold the brands they patronize to high standards. A reported 30% of consumers have boycotted a product or brand completely due to ethical concerns.
Environmentally Friendly Production
As consumers become more aware of and educated about global food production practices, they are also becoming more selective about the products they choose for themselves and their families. Nearly half of all consumers, 49% of those surveyed, report having adjusted their food consumption over the past 2 years, specifically to be more environmentally friendly.
Consumers have also been focusing on reducing their own food waste in recent years, and are seeking out brands who match these values (with their production and packaging practices).
Trust and Traceability
Trust and traceability are also becoming increasingly important, with consumers demanding more information about the ingredients and production methods used in their food products. Tracing and documenting the ingredients and processes that go into creating a food product, and making that information available to the public, are concrete steps towards building trust. Brands are beginning to utilize digital technologies to allow individual products to be traced back to their origin, taking this idea one step further. Consumers will begin to expect this level of specificity on a regular basis
Simple, straightforward, and minimalist messaging is resonating with today’s overstimulated consumers. Connecting with fatigued customers requires transparency, honesty, and simplicity. Consumers are drawn toward packaging that clearly highlights the health benefits and natural ingredients of a product. In addition, minimalist packaging is becoming more popular with brands and consumers looking for ways to reduce their waste and minimize their environmental impact.
Speaking of transparency – consumers tend to favor packaging that is at least partially transparent physically, as well.
Investing Where it Matters
C-stores are leaning into a range of areas, effectively keeping up with consumer demand and trends – including expanding their food options, improving packaging and production standards, and making it a priority to support health and wellness. With these investments, convenience stores are well positioned to continue meeting the changing needs of their customers, and to continue their projected growth in the market.
2023-2024 Food Trends Guide: Now Available!
See our complete 2023-2024 Convenience Store Food Trends guide for more insights that can help you grow sales in your stores.