Everyone has their own tastes – and the trending c-store food products across the country prove it. From new levels of spice to classic comfort foods, nostalgic treats from our childhood to farm-fresh salads, the only thing that’s certain – we love options. Let’s dig into what food products are trending for c-store food service today, and where we can invest to be profitable tomorrow.
Trending C-store Foods: Craveables!
Consumers are demanding a new level of flavor, and more variety in their c-store food options. From hot-and-ready products, deli sandwiches, and snack foods, to fresh local grocery products and health foods – consumers are demanding taste, variety, and (sometimes) nutrition.
Emerging Spice Trends
Across the board, intense flavor profiles are ruling the day. A number of chili pepper varieties from around the world are trending upwards in 2023, and this spice-loving trend is expected to continue. Flavor trends for snack foods, as well as prepared foods, have been gravitating towards “spicy” in recent years. Brands have responded by introducing a number of capsaicin-forward options – including the “Flamin’ Hot” line, spicy fried chicken sandwiches, and more. Consumers are responding – and refining their particular preferences and affinities when it comes to spicy snacks.
As this trend continues, we’re seeing it cross paths with another current trend – an increased desire for international flavors. This year, up to 74% of consumers expressed a desire to experience new foods and flavors from around the world. While variety is the spice of life, it seems that spice varieties from southeast Asia are trending up particularly strongly across the United States. Keep your ear to the ground for local trends as well though, as these tend to be regional. Overall, be prepared for consumers to continue their intake of new, spicy flavors, especially from novelty hot peppers sourced from different regions around the world.
Fresh Beverage Options
We hear a lot about “fresh food options” in the industry, but not as much about “fresh beverage options.” Semantics aside, we are seeing a clear, if budding trend in the beverage segment for c-store food-service – an increased prevalence of fresh-brewed and fresh-squeezed beverage options.
C-stores are increasingly being seen as alternatives to traditional “coffee shops” and other quick service cafe restaurants. As consumers continue to patronize c-stores for their morning pick-me-up, we’ll see a continued increase in bean-to-cup coffee initiatives and fresh-brewed iced tea.
Every generation is susceptible to it. Just when you think you won’t be – boom – there you are, standing in your local c-store wondering, “where did all these snacks come from? Where are the ones from when I was a kid?”
Bringing back classic favorites is a tried and true method for brands to boost sales among their more nostalgic customer cohort, but in recent years we’ve seen a positive surge in all things retro – including food products.
From the McRib, to Boo Berry and Frute Brute cereal – long-standing brands are reaching into their recipe archives to deliver fun, nostalgia, great taste… and increased revenue!
It will be interesting to track how this trend aligns with other emerging patterns – like a push for more naturally-occurring sweeteners and label-friendly ingredients. “Glass bottle” sodas featuring pure cane sugar already capitalize on the situation, selling for a premium over their “regular” counterparts, and other products are looking to capture that same allure. Consumers interested in these trends could find value in older recipes that pre-date the popularity of many of today’s more common, processed ingredients.
The Mighty Fried Chicken Sandwich
No discussion of craveable, trending food products in the United States would be complete without mention of the mighty stalwart – the fried chicken sandwich.
The “chicken sandwich wars” are real, and they’ve had a real impact on food service in c-stores. While traditional quick service restaurants battled it out with each other to create new, improved, craveable fried chicken sandwich varieties, the market grew to expect novel variations on this humble classic. C-stores have had to step up to fill those expectations.
In another example of c-stores investing to follow consumer demand, brands have upped their game in the fried chicken department, offering novel spice and flavor options, premium toppings, and even new-and-improved buns. Fried chicken sandwiches 3.0 are here to stay (for now!) – and as a premium product, that’s a good thing!
Leaning Into Trending Foods
Understanding the driving factors behind changing consumer behavior allows brands to deliver what their consumers crave – creating sales and happy customers. Leaning into national food trends is a great way to optimize for the market, but understanding the micro-trends that are impacting your particular region is just as important. C-stores are increasingly leaning into data and reporting to better understand the live trends impacting their industry. Everyone has different tastes, and the variety of trending food products proves it.
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.