“The consumer health and wellness push towards better-for-you foods has moved further into the mainstream – impacting retailers from restaurants to grocery stores, and now increasingly, the convenience store retail sector,” Hudson Institute writes in a white paper commissioned by the National Association of Convenience Stores.
Traditional snack offerings have long dominated the c-store retail channel, but “in the past five years, the importance of natural foods and beverages to c-store shoppers has nearly doubled, with 62% stating natural foods are important to maintaining their health,” according to the paper.
In addition, 75% of c-store shoppers say they are eating healthier than they used to and are more likely to take any means necessary to control their own health, according to the report.
This mirrors the broader US population, 75% of which also said that consuming a healthy, nutritious diet is important in how they achieve a healthy lifestyle, according to NMI’s data in the paper.
The definition of “healthy” is amorphous and can range from low-carb to high-protein to gluten-free. For the general population, though, identifying healthy products often includes checking the Nutrition Facts panel with top focal points including calories for 45% of consumers, sugar for 47%, sodium for 41% and total fat for 38%.
C-store shoppers are less likely to check Nutrition Facts boxes, and are more likely to be confused about what is and what isn’t healthy. As a result, they are reaching more for the obviously healthy options, such as vegetables, fruit, whole grain foods and nuts, all of which 34%-50% of c-store shoppers said they are eating more of now compared to a year ago.
The products likely are displacing consumption of some typical c-store fare, the research adds. It found 38%-44% of c-store shoppers say they are eating less high fat foods, junk food, regular soda and potato chips than a year ago, the report adds.
On-the-go & kids’ products best bets
As the convenience channel’s name suggest, speed and ease are top priorities for consumers in this channel and must be balanced with their interest in healthier options, according to the report.
This means on-the-go better-for-you products are well-positioned to take advantage of this channel’s potential, the research suggest.
Indeed, NMI and Hudson Institute say 66% of c-store shoppers report being interested in on-the-go foods – up from 59% seven years ago.
In particularly, healthier on-the-go options for children are well-suited for this channel given that c-store consumers are trending more affluent, younger and more likely to have children than a few years ago.
For parents with kids in tow, a better-for-you brand that highlights claims for protein, all-natural, vitamin and nutrient density or fortification and no additives or preservatives likely will perform better.
Breakfast is another bright spot
On-the-go breakfast is another area ripe for growth in this category, the report notes.
“Healthier breakfast options are the most desired and also the biggest gap,” according to the report, which adds shoppers in this channel may also be attracted to better-for-you, ready-to-eat breakfast items.
No matter the category, better-for-you options likely will do well in this channel if they are grouped together and include signs that can help consumers cut through the clutter in c-stores and find the healthier options they want, the report says.