Convenience store food has a reputation problem. Or should I say, had a reputation problem. 

Convenience store food used to be a punch line — a food that no one in their right mind would eat unless they were either desperate, out of options, or trying to be funny

No longer!

Convenience stores all over the country are now reinventing themselves as honest-to-goodness dining destinations for consumers–and they’re succeeding. 

Don’t believe me? Look at the stats. 

According to the NACS, food service now accounts for over 22.6% of total convenience store sales, which is a big jump from previous years. Also, this increase has prompted operators to expand their facilities to accommodate in-store seating and open kitchens. 

This growth isn’t just spontaneous. There are several very good reasons why convenience stores are genuine dining options. 

1. Consumers Are Strapped for Time

According to a survey commissioned by H&R Block, 59% of Americans find it difficult to balance work and their personal schedules. People are in a rush to do things and go places, and this urgency carries over into the shopping experience. 

It’s common for convenience store customers to also grab a bite to eat while they’re there. According to surveys, 45% of fuel customers go in-store to purchase a beverage, while another 36% purchase a snack. 

This desire for fast, convenient and tasty food options makes convenience stores well suited to serving today’s busy population. 

2. Americans Changing the Way They Eat

American dining habits are evolving. According to the Department of Agriculture, families now spend more on food away from home than on food within the home–a change that occurred even far back as 2010. 

Millennials are showing a higher preference for convenience, too. According to Convenience Store News, millennials spend 11% of their food and beverage budget each year at their local convenience stores. 87% are more likely to order food at the closest location to their home between the hours of 10pm-2am.

This change means more opportunities for convenience stores to serve and satisfy diners at any point of the day–even the wee hours of the morning. 

3. Expanding Snack Choices

C-store customers looking for food used to be limited to just pre-packaged snack items like microwaveable burritos or meat pies. 

In order to compete with fast-food restaurants and groceries, however, convenience stores have now expanded their menus with considerably healthier and fresher choices like fresh turkey sandwiches, grilled chicken wraps, pasta, and salads.

Some brands have even developed their own signature dishes, such as Wawa and their hoagies, Buc-ee’s and their barbecue menu and Parker’s with their chicken tenders. 7-11 has even introduced its own house wine, called Voyager Point, which is available for under $12. 

4. Preparing Food On-Site

As tasty as the expanded menu is, it wouldn’t attract so much attention if it were cooked elsewhere and shipped in prepackaged like the rest of the traditional c-store food stocks. 

Fortunately, the convenience store industry’s new commitment to quality and freshness has prompted them to install on-site cooking facilities operated by dedicated food service staff. This includes introducing food safety best practices that are meant to both ensure a customer’s safety and reverse the industry’s reputation for the dangerous, low-quality fare. 

What Now?

Foodservice is the next hot thing shaking up the convenience industry. If you haven’t done so already, it’s high time to revisit your c-store offerings and look to ways you can expand your dining options. 

Even something as offering fresh fruit can be a big draw to customers. Fresh produce sales have increased by over 10% in recent years, and 60% of c-store locations stock fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. So it’s a good baby step to improving your food selection. Then, once you’re more confident about the demand in your area, you can invest in adding cooking facilities in your establishment. 

Reach out to us if you’re interested in learning more about how other convenience stores are handling the transition to the full dining experience.