Convenience stores emerge as health food destination

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Convenience stores emerge as health food destination

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More consumers are seeking healthy foods and beverages at convenience stores, creating an opportunity in a previously often overlooked channel for manufacturers of these products to expand their reach, according to new market research from Technomic. 

“A lot of the stereotypes [of convenience stores] are falling by the wayside”​ as more women and younger consumers who are “open-minded about what a convenience store is and can mean for them”​ are shopping the channel for healthy foods and produce, said Donna Hood Crecca, Technomic senior director.

She noted that while the “heavy users”​ of the channel still skew toward men “looking for a roller dog and Slurpee,”​ more than half of the convenience store consumers who Technomic recently surveyed agreed that they are seeking more healthy items than a year ago and that women are more interested in healthier options than men are.

In addition, she noted 53% of the consumers said they would visit c-stores more if healthier foods were more available.

This is significant because it means c-stores looking to expand their consumer base and foot traffic are looking to add more healthy foods, including prepared food service items, Crecca said.

In particular, “we see a trend toward them looking to merchandise healthy snacks,” ​while still providing the less healthy “craveable”​ snacks that consumers expect at c-stores.

 Health beverages also poised for expansion

Manufacturers of healthy beverages also have a significant opportunity at c-stores, with more than half of consumers saying they specifically seek more healthy drinks, compared to 62% looking for healthy foods, Crecca said.

“Convenience stores do a tremendous amount of volume in single serve beverages and multipacks,”​ Crecca said. She added that she is seeing “a softening in the sweet beverage category and increase in volume and consumer preference for beverages that can give them healthful benefits.”

For example, purchase of bottled water and sports drinks are on the rise in the channel.

Also, “energy drinks saw a significant surge in availability at convenience stores, contributing to the category’s nearly 23% growth in menu items,”​ the consumer research and management consulting company noted.

ALO Drink, which dominates in the natural channel, already has a plan in place to take advantage of this trend by launching a new line of pulp free healthy drinks to sell at convenience stores. (Read more HERE​.) 

Chains leading the way

Convenience store chains leading the trend in providing more healthy options include 7-Eleven and Holiday Stationstores, Crecca said.

“7-Eleven has done a whole undertaking with its better-for-you initiative. They are offering produce, changing up their baked goods, offering more fruit, more cut vegetables and yogurt,”​ Crecca said.

Indeed, the retailer in January launched two premium better-for-you snack bars under its new private-label banner 7-Select GO!Smart. The Cranberry Cashew and Pistachio and Mixed Berries bars have less than 200 calories and join the retailer’s other offerings in the “Better Bites”​ snack collection, which includes dry roasted edamame, organic trail mix, veggie chips and nut blends. The company also launched in September a Fresh Foods menu that was created by Tony Horton, the powerhouse behind the popular Beachbody P90X fitness program.

“Even the leaders in convenience stores, like Sheetz and Wawa, are diversifying their offerings to satisfy their consumers who want healthy options,”​ Crecca said.

Challenges to overcome

CPG manufacturers that want to take advantage of this trend and expand into convenience stores will need to overcome a few hurdles, Crecca said.

The channel is very competitive and newcomers will “be competing with big names and for shelf space,”​ Crecca said. “So, to capture the attention of convenience stores you have to have a compelling point of differentiation that will connect with their customer.”

She also advised manufacturers of healthy foods and beverages they may have better luck pitching retailers with larger format stores, which is an emerging trend, “because that is where operators can flex their selection muscle.”

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