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Today’s Convenience Store: More Than Just a Gas Station

Six Surprising Revelations from the National Association of Convenience Stores

Yes, convenience stores sell 80% of the gas purchased in the country. And yes, they sell more than 40% of all packaged drinks in the country—especially bottled water and sports drinks. But today’s convenience store offers so much more than just gas and beverages.

Step inside a convenience store today—you won’t be alone because half of America is, with convenience stores conducting 160 million transactions a day—and you will see that this neighborhood retailer offers fresh meals, healthy options and cool new products. With the industry’s annual trade show taking place in Chicago on October 17-20, it’s the perfect opportunity to share six surprising facts about this community retailer.

The National Association of Convenience Stores’ (NACS) Show in Chicago will have more than 22,000 attendees from 50-plus countries attending four days of general sessions, 50-plus education sessions and an expo featuring more than 1,200 exhibiting companies.

“Above all, convenience stores sell time. The stores are where you are, open when you need them, and you can get in and out in a matter of minutes. And these neighborhood stores have everything busy consumers need, from soup to nuts—literally,” says Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives for NACS.

“Convenience stores are commonly called ‘c-stores,’ but c-store means so much more than convenience. The ‘C’ also represents the customers we serve, the communities we support and the choices we offer—whether healthy options or more indulgent treats,” says NACS President & CEO Henry Armour.

Following are six revelations about how today’s convenience stores are redefining convenience:

  1. Serve Meals. Overall, foodservice sales in U.S. convenience stores (which includes both prepared food and beverages) are $52 billion, or 22% of all in-store sales. Freshly prepared food and packaged sandwiches are $35 billion of that total. Many stores offer hot meals prepared to order—such as sandwiches, wraps, pizza and even gourmet fare. And, of course, they offer grab-and-go snacks and meals in a cup, whether yogurt, fruit or veggie cups or other portable snacks. “On-the-go consumers are turning the car cup holder into a dinner plate by filling it with food packaged to fit into this space,” says Lenard.
  2. Offer Healthy Options. While shoppers will find indulgent treats inside convenience stores, they may be surprised to find most stores include an open-air cooler stocked chock full of fresh fruits, vegetables, yogurt, cheese and other healthy options. NACS partners with leading food and nutrition groups to increase the variety of healthier options in stores. In May, NACS became the first retail trade association to join the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), the preeminent health-focused group in the country. And consumers have noticed. Today, one in five (20%) consumers say they’ve noticed that convenience stores are offering more healthy options like salads and fruits. And, more is coming. NACS and PHA have jointly launched a new web-based nutrition calculator to help members develop better-for-you store sets. And, recognizing that convenience stores already sell approximately 50% of the country’s single-serve bottled water, NACS also created marketing materials featuring PHA’s Drink Up initiative to encourage customers to consume more water.
  3. Care About the Earth. Admit it, you empty the trash from your car into the convenience store trash can when you fuel up. And you’re not alone, because 70% of Americans say they do. And convenience stores are also looking to play a larger role in litter management. This month, NACS announced a major partnership with Keep America Beautiful to help retailers reduce and ultimately eliminate litter in and near their stores.
  4. Partner with their Communities. NACS member companies collectively contribute nearly $1 billion a year to charities, and 64% support five or more nonprofits in their communities. The NACS reFresh program helps stores create partnerships with like-minded community- and nutrition-focused groups. In addition, earlier this year, NACS announced a major partnership with The American Red Cross to facilitate member contributions to disaster relief efforts, especially related to this year’s hurricanes.
  5. Save You Time. Whether it’s fuel, food and drinks or access to cash—one third of the country’s ATMs are at convenience stores—convenience stores provide speed of service to time-starved consumers. A NACS speed metrics study found that it takes customers, on average, 3 minutes and 33 seconds from the time they leave their cars until the time they get back in their cars with a purchase. “That time spent in stores is about the length of the average song on the radio—but stores are innovating to make it even faster. After all, every second we save each of our 160 million daily U.S. customers alone translates into a savings of 5 years per day,” explains Lenard.
  6. Sell Cool Stuff. Convenience stores are a perfect place to try new food and drink items. You don’t need to buy something in bulk—just grab it and try it. And that’s what most Americans do: 66% of all items purchased in a convenience store are consumed immediately. This makes convenience stores—and the NACS Show—the perfect place to debut new product innovations. The Cool New Products Room at the NACS Show will feature nearly 300 exceptional items launching in the coming months. Here are some hot trends that shoppers soon will find on c-store shelves:

Alternative snacks continue to gain popularity, as consumers—especially Millennials—seek out protein- and energy-rich items.

New flavor combinations merge traditional flavors—whether sweet and spicy, sweet and sour or sweet and salty—into something completely new.

“Functional beverages” quench thirst while packing protein, vitamins or other nutrients.

New foodservice programs and equipment help provide high-end food and beverage options in stores.

NACS advances the role of convenience stores as positive economic, social and philanthropic contributors to the communities they serve. The U.S. convenience store industry, with more than 154,000 stores nationwide selling fuel, food and merchandise, serves 160 million customers daily—half of the U.S. population—and has sales that are 10.8% of total U.S. retail and foodservice sales. NACS has 2,100 retailer and 1,750 supplier members from more than 50 countries.

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